Basalt council votes to oversee downtown planning process |

Basalt council votes to oversee downtown planning process

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

The Basalt Town Council will keep a firm grasp on the planning process underway to determine what will get built on key downtown parcels.

The council voted 6-0 Tuesday night to “direct the activities” of a soon-to-be-appointed Downtown Advisory Commission rather than relinquish oversight to the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission.

Ten members will be appointed to the advisory commission. Two that will be appointed from the planning commission by the planning commission; two from the citizen “cabinet” of Mayor Jacque Whitsitt; and one each by the six council members.

The 10-member committee will be tasked with taking general options for downtown development that were voted on by town residents and add details so the community can make a better-informed choice. The committee will “put more meat on the bone,” said Town Manager Mike Scanlon.

The committee must work fast. It is supposed to provide recommendations to the council and planning commission by Thanksgiving, according to Scanlon’s outline.

Scanlon and his staff advised the council to let the planning commission, whose members are appointed by the council, to oversee the special committee, but objections were raised at Tuesday’s meeting.

Town resident Gerry Terwilliger said he was concerned about the planning commission overseeing the process because he believes some members “have a bias toward development.” He said the planning process should be overseen with an unbiased eye.

In addition, he opposed having one appointed committee overseeing another appointed committee.

“I think that will be a real bowl of spaghetti,” Terwilliger said.

The council majority shared Terwilliger’s concern, though not for the same reasons.

Councilman Gary Tennenbaum said the council should lead the process and take responsibility for keeping the process moving. Councilman Herschel Ross agreed. The council is the elected body with the responsibility to the town residents, he said, so it should take responsibility for the process, he said. Ross also advocated for open and well-publicized meetings by the Downtown Advisory Commission so it’s “just not 10 people in a dark room.”

A faction of citizens has already expressed concerns that the council will follow its own agenda and ignore citizen input. Councilman Bernie Grauer said if anyone has evidence that is occurring, they should present it.

The process itself drew some internal criticism. Grauer asked why the town is “adding a layer” to its downtown planning process by forming the commission and taking another eight weeks before the planning commission and council start making decisions.

Scanlon said the work done so far in the “Our Town” planning process has been general in nature. Residents and anyone with an interest in Basalt was asked to indicate general preferences on the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park site and other key parcels. Now that general preferences are known, work must be performed on details, he said.

Councilman Rick Stevens vented general frustration over inertia in town planning matters. “It stops and its starts three or four years later,” he said. Participants get frustrated that they are wasting their time by giving input, then not seeing action.

Stevens said he doesn’t care who manages the current process, as long as the town keeps the momentum. “We’re not going to get there unless we keep the pedal to the metal,” he said.

He wants to get 10 competent people on the Downtown Advisory Commission “and let ’em duke it out.”

“There’s a lot of passion about this in the community,” Stevens said.

After a lengthy discussion, the council voted 6-0 to create the Downtown Advisory Commission and oversee the discussion itself. Mayor Jacque Whitsitt is out of the country.

In other action Tuesday night, the council:

Voted 6-0 to put a question on the November ballot proposing a municipal sales tax of up to 5 percent on the sale or recreational marijuana.

Voted 6-0 to work with the Wyly Arts Center on proposing formation of a Basalt Public Arts Commission. The commission will work with the residents to determine what is important to implement in the arts, then try to make it happen, according to Scanlon. He said it is possible a question will be placed on the November 2015 ballot seeking funding tied to arts uses.

Voted 6-0 on a final plan application for Rocky Mountain Institute’s Innovation Center and office building. The nonprofit, which focuses on energy efficiency and community sustainability, proposed a building that will feature 15,610 square feet in the first phase and 4,400 square feet in a future phase. It will be built where Taqueria el Nopal was located. Work is scheduled to begin in October.

Voted 6-0 to allow the Roaring Fork Club to convert its current administrative building into a single-family home. The building is located south of Highway 82.

Voted 6-0 on a first reading to put the Community Priority Scoring System “on hold.” The scoring system is a form of growth control that the council approved in 2009, as the recession was hitting full force. The council is now putting it on hold, as the economy heats up. A second vote will be taken Sept. 23.

Voted 6-0 to issue $1.93 million in general obligation bonds. Voters approved issuing $5 million in bonds last November. Not all of the bonds were issued. Now the town wants to issue the remainder for purchase of additional land at the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park site.