Basalt council won’t pay for Lobster Shack’s sewer
The Aspen Times
The Basalt Town Council majority decided this week it didn’t want to spend as much as $7,000 to provide a sewer line on town property being rented by Butch’s Lobster Shack, according to Town Manager Mike Scanlon.
Shack proprietor Butch Darden didn’t want to make the investment either, so he’s given up on Basalt and looking to locate in Carbondale.
“There’s really no one to blame,” Scanlon said.
Scanlon raised the issue with the council at Tuesday’s meeting after the board had gone into and recessed from a closed session on an unrelated matter. There was a brief discussion about the town paying for the sewer line.
“I didn’t see any support on the council,” Scanlon said.
Some members didn’t support spending public money to help a private business in a highly competitive industry, according to Scanlon.
Other town officials also questioned the wisdom of spending an estimated $5,000 to $7,000 for the sewer line when the future of the property is unsettled. The site, located where the recycling center used to be, might be part of a larger development connected to the former Pan and Fork site. The sewer line might be ripped up in a couple of years if there is redevelopment, Scanlon said.
Councilman Rick Stevens was in the minority. He said he could justify providing infrastructure to the town-owned property for a use that will bring people to town. Butch’s boosted the town character and was something that old-timers and newcomers both enjoyed, he said.
“I would love to see him stay in town,” Stevens said.
Darden said he thought the issue was close to being resolved until he learned otherwise Wednesday at Town Hall.
“I walked in there and got the bad news,” he said.
The Lobster Shack seemed cursed this year. First, there was a dispute between Darden and the Basalt Downtown Business Association over the amount of space he could lease. The business association was given the reins of the site after last summer. It decided to divide the property into smaller spaces and create more opportunities this year. Darden originally refused to accept a smaller space but later accepted for $750 per month.
The bigger hurdle facing the restaurant was a requirement by the Eagle County Health Department for the sewer hookup. Under state Health Department rules, Butch’s Lobster Shack is a permanent structure rather than a self-contained food truck. Therefore, it needed a sewer line.
Darden said he couldn’t justify the expense. He said he spent $30,000 last year to customize the shack and seating for the area. He didn’t want to invest more because there is no guaranteed long-term future at the site.
Darden said he had discussed with Scanlon the possibility of his rent being applied to the sewer-line placement. He blamed the Basalt Downtown Business Association for scuttling that plan, but Scanlon said he didn’t even approach the association since there was no support on the council.
“It seems to me the Basalt Downtown Business Association is being made out to be a scapegoat,” Scanlon said.
Richard Rosenfeld, a member of the association’s board of directors, said the organization looked forward to the opening of Butch’s Lobster Shack after they shook hands on a rental agreement in May. State and Eagle County health regulations created the issue, not the business association, he said.
“If Butch’s chooses to change the operation to meet state health regulations, he would be very welcome in Basalt,” Rosenfeld said. Other spaces have been rented to Slow Groovin’ BBQ and a produce stand.
Scanlon said given the popularity of the Lobster Shack, as evidenced by letters to the editors of area newspapers, he suspects people would have contributed to help Darden raise the funds for the sewer line.
“You probably could have crowdsourced this,” he said, referring to the act of using the Internet to raise awareness and funds for a cause.
Stevens said he had volunteered to provide an excavator from the business he operates, Aspen Earthmoving, to dig the sewer line, but there was scant other support to help.
“Most people are just over it,” he said.
While new restaurants enter the Aspen scene, there are several spaces that will remain empty this winter. Meanwhile, the retail market remains extremely hot.