Basalt council votes 3-3 to reject Stott’s Mill expansion
A deadlocked Basalt Town Council turned down a developer’s request Tuesday night to increase the density of a project from 110 to 156 residences.
The council voted 3-3 on the request to increase the density of the Stott’s Mill project in Basalt’s Southside neighborhood. The tie meant the motion for approval failed. Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer was out of town and couldn’t break the tie, but she has expressed the most skepticism about the upzoning in the past.
The vote came after about a dozen residents of Southside spoke against the project. Resident Aaron Pearlman said there currently are 84 residences in Southside on 21 acres. Adding another 156 units on just 18 acres would overwhelm the neighborhood, which has just one ingress and egress off Highway 82 via Basalt Avenue, he said.
“I’m just not sure why it’s a major expansion from the original approval,” Pearlman said.
Greg Smith asked what was happening to the idea of preserving Basalt’s small-town character. Approving a project the size of Stott’s Mill will just trigger further growth — businesses to meet residents’ demands and additional residents to fill jobs.
“Do we really want to do this to ourselves? What’s the end game?” Smith asked.
“We didn’t come here to live in a small city or a large suburb,” he added.
One speaker was in favor of the project. The Basalt resident and business owner said it would provide affordable housing that would get workers closer to their places of employment.
Stott’s Mill received approvals for 110 residences from Basalt in 2009. The Great Recession stalled the project, but Briston Peterson and his partners in MSP1 LLC kept the 18 acres of land under contract, paying a regular option.
They revived the plan last year and proposed increasing it to 60 single-family homes and 96 multi-family residences. It would include 20 multi-family units and 10 single-family units sold under affordable housing restrictions. The high-density and small lot sizes were intended to keep the free-market housing attainable for the Roaring Fork Valley’s working class.
Proponents have touted it as the kind of project the Roaring Fork Valley needs to ease its affordable housing shortage.
Density versus life quality
The council’s deliberations highlighted the struggle between adding affordable housing and putting density within the town boundaries, on the one hand, versus preserving quality of life on the other hand.
Councilman Gary Tennenbaum said he supported the project when it earned approval in 2009, but it was tough to support the increased density because of the traffic impact. Some streets and intersections in Southside would operate at a service level “D” at times, which means high congestion and long waits. He asked if that level was acceptable to Basalt.
Councilman Auden Schendler acknowledged the issue was a tough call. He noted that two of his best friends wrote letters in opposition to the higher density project.
Schendler said he would “love to close the door behind me” and the other people who made it into Basalt and preserve the small town, but growth and traffic “is coming whether we want it or not,” he said. The Stott’s Mill site, on Southside Drive close to the Rio Grande Trail, is appropriate, he said.
“It’s not perfect, but this is where we should be pushing the density,” Schendler said.
Applicant unsure of future
Mayor Jacque Whitsitt disagreed. She said the town has a responsibility to make sure infrastructure is in place before it approves high-density projects. The roads and sidewalks are inadequate to support the upzoning request of Stott’s Mill, she said. Another connection from Southside to Highway 82 or a vehicular underpass is years off, if not decades, she claimed.
“You’re looking at a squeeze hole for this community for the rest of my life, probably,” Whitsitt said.
She said she could support renewing the 2009 approval for 110 units, but not a project that would more than double the units on Southside.
“Any development we do should add to the quality of life,” Whitsitt said. Stott’s Mill wouldn’t add to the quality of life for residents of Southside, she added.
Schendler and Councilmen Mark Kittle and Bernie Grauer voted to support the request. Whitsitt, Tennenbaum and Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle were opposed.
Peterson had no formal comments in the hearing, but he told The Aspen Times after the meeting his team would have to “take a deep breath” and then revisit the issue. He said they have put 10 years and “millions of dollars” into the project through options to buy the land and consultants’ fees. The only way to make the finances work, he said, is if the sellers reduce the price in light of the council’s decision that no more than 110 units will be approved.
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