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Basalt discusses master plan in private

The Basalt Town Council retreated into a closed session with its attorney Tuesday night to discuss whether its master plan is legally enforceable.The council voted unanimously – 5-0, with two members absent – to hold the talk in executive discussion despite a protest by The Aspen Times. A reporter claimed an issue of such high community interest and importance should be discussed in public, especially since it involves general town government policy.Tom Smith, the contract attorney for the town and a former Pitkin County attorney, said the board was within its legal bounds to hold an executive session with its attorney to discuss the master plan, even if there is no specific threat of litigation on the matter. Councilman Gary Tennenbaum said he supports discussing issues in public whenever possible. However, with the town government working on master plan amendments and facing several development applications in which the master plan must be applied, Tennenbaum said it was critical to discuss legal issues with Smith in private.Town officials fear a developer could file a lawsuit over the rejection of a project because it doesn’t comply with the master plan. They don’t want to discuss their legal strategy in public in case that type of litigation materializes.On Wednesday, Basalt Councilman Chris Seldin said he couldn’t discuss what was said in the board’s session with Smith. “No, not now. I intend to [discuss it] at a public hearing,” he said.Seldin, who is the assistant attorney for Pitkin County government, said he has “an obligation” to constituents not to compromise the town’s legal positions.Seldin raised the question about the master plan’s enforceability during a public hearing last month on the Roaring Fork Club’s expansion application. The private golf club wants to add cabins, affordable housing and services. The developers need the Basalt board to approve the annexation of their land. The project’s compatibility with the town master plan is an issue.Basalt Town Manager Bill Efting said the board and Smith discussed background on the enforcement of master plans in Colorado and other matters. He said there was no definitive answer on whether Basalt’s master plan is legally enforceable.”He really didn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no,'” Efting said. “There are gray areas. There always are. There always have been.”The legal status of master plans in Colorado has been a bone of contention for years in courts and the Legislature, according to Sam Mamet, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League. The nonprofit represents the state’s city and town governments at the state level, and provides them with a variety of resources.The Colorado Supreme Court upheld Larimer County’s ability to apply its master plan to a land-use application about seven years ago, Mamet said. The next year, a homebuilders association convinced legislators to pass the Municipal Planning Act and the County Planning Act, which said master plans “are advisory only,” Mamet said.”What we won in court we lost in the Legislature,” he said. Efforts to amend state law have failed, so master plans of towns like Basalt don’t appear enforceable.”At this point, the answer is probably not,” Mamet said.But Mamet said Basalt has an even more powerful tool at its disposal than the master plan. Municipal governments can require virtually any conditions they want from developers that require annexation, he noted.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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