Basalt: Do we kick realtors upstairs?
Booting realtors out of prime ground-floor locations on Midland Avenue might be fun, but probably won’t accomplish much, the Basalt Town Council learned Tuesday night.
Some council members have been toying with the idea of establishing “vertical zoning” that would prohibit real estate firms and other offices from locating in spots considered ideal for retail shops. Office space critics, such as Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt, claim it sucks life and vitality out of the town when offices are located in premium ground-floor sites.
Town officials ran the idea of vertical zoning past two consultants Tuesday who have been hired to look at the economic picture in Basalt and the midvalley (see related story on page 3-A).
“We feel like we’ve been overrun by real estate offices,” said Town Manager Tom Baker. Does it make sense, he asked Walter Kieser and Dan Guimond of Economic Planning Systems Inc., to use zoning to alter what’s happening?
The economists answered with a resounding “no.”
“That’s one of the areas where the market really takes care of itself,” said Guimond. When a location becomes lucrative enough, retail will naturally gravitate toward it and “drive offices upstairs,” he said.
If the town were to enact zoning that prohibits offices from those spaces before retail can be successful, the result would likely be “empty spaces and angry landlords,” said Kieser, principal owner of the Berkeley, Calif.-based Economic and Planning Systems.
“What do you gain?” Kieser asked of that scenario.
Councilman Steve Solomon posed the same question in a little more colorful way.
“If we kicked every real estate agent out in the street – fun as that may be – how have we created a viable downtown?” Solomon asked.
The key to creating a viable downtown, Kieser said, is drawing increased foot traffic with enticements like civic uses and strong anchor tenants.
But architect Michael Lipkin – developer of the Willits project, which would create a second commercial core for Basalt – noted that building the “critical mass” necessary for retail would threaten downtown’s charm. After all, he noted, more people equates to more traffic.
“Maybe retail isn’t the best possible thing to happen to Midland Avenue,” said Lipkin.
Kieser assured the Town Council his firm’s study will look at the issues associated with strengthening the retail sector in downtown Basalt.
Councilwoman Whitsitt said Wednesday she isn’t ready to abandon the concept of vertical zoning.
“I find it difficult to imagine how the market will adequately take care of commercial any more than it does residential,” she said. “But the town would need a comprehensive plan as to what exactly we want downtown and how we would get it there before attempting vertical zoning.” .
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