Basalt developer lashes out
A developer who is feuding with the Basalt town government wants to put her proposal on a shelf until after an April 4 Town Council election that could reshape the board.
Frieda Wallison, who heads the group attempting to develop the Riverwalk project, alleged in a letter to the Basalt Town Council that the town government is refusing to take her application “seriously.”
She also claimed that the town takes a “consistently adversarial” position on how much affordable housing she must provide. The town’s requirements, she said, would cost her nearly $3 million in extra expenses and drive up the cost of free-market residences to an “unreasonable” amount.
Wallison and investors in her Caddis Fly Partners LLC have proposed a 75,000-square-foot project along the Frying Pan River in downtown Basalt. The site is across Midland Avenue from the Catholic Church. They want to build a mixed-used project that combines commercial and residential spaces.
An earlier version of the project was approved by the town, but Wallison has proposed amendments she claims would make it more financially viable for her and beneficial to the town.
She claimed the town government review is taking too long and may force her to build the project as approved – something she claimed would represent a lost opportunity for the town for a better project.
Wallison didn’t return a message left at her home Tuesday. Her letter, delivered Monday to Town Hall, echoed many of the same criticisms of the current policies that have been leveled in the campaign. Basalt voters will select a mayor and four trustees in the April 4 election.
One of Wallison’s architects, Glenn Rappaport, is running for mayor. Rappaport has contended during the campaign that the council is taking too rigid a stance on issues like affordable housing and taking too adversarial a position with developers.
A similar stance has been espoused by Tiffany Gildred, who is running for a trustee seat. Gildred is the business manager for Harry Teague Architects, which is also working on the Riverwalk project.
Rappaport said Tuesday there is no connection between Wallison’s actions and the election.
“That’s the last thing on Frieda’s mind, absolutely,” he said.
Gildred said she didn’t know what was motivating Wallison. Gildred noted that as business manager for Harry Teague Architects, she really doesn’t get involved in individual projects the firm works on.
Even if Wallison was trying influence the campaign, it probably wouldn’t help her project. Both Rappaport and Gildred said they would step down from discussion and votes on the project if elected to the Town Council.
Nevertheless, Rappaport said Riverwalk’s situation is indicative of a broader issue facing Basalt. Inflexibility on the part of the board can lead to frustration on the part of developers. The result is less creative projects.
“This thing’s going to keep happening,” he said.
Mayoral candidate and current Trustee Steve Solomon countered that the government hasn’t been inflexible. Wallison has failed to utilize provisions of the town code that would allow her to decrease her affordable housing requirements, he said.
Solomon also defended the town staff’s memo and the broader effort to make Wallison and other developers comply with new affordable housing requirements as well thought out.
Solomon said this campaign shows there are people with two different visions. One camp sees a growing line of developers attempting to build in Basalt. That camp, which he placed himself in, believes “it pays to be choosy” and require developers to make extra efforts to benefit the town.
The other camp, into which Solomon placed Rappaport, believes that any development represents a potential missed opportunity.
Despite that outlook, Solomon said he doesn’t believe Wallison is attempting to influence the election.
Incumbent Mayor Rick Stevens, who is seeking re-election, wasn’t so sure. He acknowledged that his first thought after hearing of the letter was whether it is an attempt by Wallison to “show the town is all messed up.”
Stevens suggested Wallison is frustrated because review of her project was delayed by work on a new town master plan and review of the larger Willits project, which was in the process prior to Riverwalk.
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