Basalt, county at odds over housing
Basalt officials intend to stick to their new land-use planning principles even if it puts them at odds with the Pitkin County commissioners over a midvalley employee housing project.
The issue is one that pits the need for employee housing against sound land-use planning.
The Basalt Town Council has remained consistent in its opposition to a proposal for a project that mixes affordable and free-market homes in the Holland Hills neighborhood.
Landowners Ed and Cherie Booher are seeking approval for 10 deed-restricted affordable housing units and four free-market lots on a nine-acre parcel south and west of Holland Hills.
The project is in unincorporated Pitkin County, so the commissioners will ultimately decide its fate. However, they’ve requested a joint meeting with the Basalt Town Council to discuss the town’s steadfast opposition to theproject.
Town Council members indicated they are willing to meet, but aren’t likely to change their opinions.
Councilwoman Anne Freedman said she doesn’t want to see the midvalley become the focus of the upper valley’s employee housing push.
“They’re not housing people who work in Basalt at all,” Freedman said in a recent discussion of Basalt’s master plan, a blueprint for growth in and around town.
If Aspen and Pitkin County keep approving large homes that generate lots of workers and a need for housing, they should also place the employee housing up there, she said.
Freedman and other council members have consistently expressed an interest in housing midvalley workers in midvalley employee housing projects.
Board members Chris Lane and Jacque Whitsitt said an equally important issue for them is suburban sprawl. The Booher property is outside Basalt’s urban growth boundary – an area designated for urban-style development, Whitsitt noted.
The proposal is a prime example of sprawl, Lane said. Housing upper valley workers in the midvalley just adds to traffic congestion.
The Boohers’ project is creating quite a stir even within Pitkin County. The planning staff recommended denial of the application, but the planning commission voted for approval.
The county commissioners have held one meeting but haven’t rendered a decision. At least one commissioner, Mick Ireland, wants to explore the idea of making the employee housing units restricted to midvalley employees.
The county planning staff opposes the project because development should be channeled into the metro areas of Aspen, Snowmass Village and Basalt, according to a memo.
The staff also noted that the proposal is out of compliance with the Pitkin County Citizen Housing Plan, which opposes sprawl that is “not containable.”
The planning commission, on the other hand, found that the project is consistent with the Citizen Housing Plan. The majority also felt the need for housing justified the project.
“The urgent need for affordable housing is not being fulfilled in the metro areas, and, therefore, that development outside of the metro area is appropriate,” the planning commission ruled.
The commission further pressed the point that the density proposed on the Booher site already exists, therefore, the project doesn’t create sprawl.
There are seven residences on the property now – many are cabins that house local workers. Under existing zoning, the owners could tear down that housing and erect one home of up to 15,000 square feet.
Instead, their proposal would add employee housing. Critics, however, contend that the number of employees generated by four free-market homes offset the gain in additional employee housing units.
Rick Neiley, an Aspen attorney representing the Boohers, couldn’t be reached for comment about the review process.
The commissioners are scheduled to discuss the project again Aug. 25. They hope to discuss it with Basalt Town Council members prior to that meeting.
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