Basalt downtown hotel, condo plan runs into hurdle
IF YOU GO
What: Basalt Town Council will take public comment on the Lowe Enterprise’s development plan
When: Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Basalt Regional Library
It’s a tie game in the early innings of the debate over the fate of a downtown hotel and condo project in Basalt.
Proponents of the plan by development firm Lowe Enterprises showed their support Thursday with a full-page newspaper advertisement that was endorsed by roughly 240 people and businesses.
But people who oppose the project or want major revisions dominated a community meeting Thursday night. It was an impassioned but extremely civil discussion, where people on both sides urged open-mindedness and ongoing dialogue to arrive at a compromise at what’s being labeled Basalt’s legacy property.
Lowe Enterprises, a development firm with strong ties to Aspen, is proposing a 60-room boutique hotel, 12 associated high-end condominium units that would have hotel services, 40 free-market condos and affordable-housing units mixed in.
The proposal is getting more attention than the average development because the property is along the Roaring Fork River just west of downtown. Basalt town government is converting half of the property into a riverfront park. Lowe wants to develop the other half closest to Two Rivers Road. The site is where the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park was formerly located.
About 75 people packed Basalt Town Hall for a discussion on the project and one speaker said another 50 were outside in the lobby. Based on the audience reaction to speakers’ comments, most of the crowd wanted more of the property left open to create a regionally attractive park and special-events venue along the river. Substantial support was voiced for a hotel and hot beds, but Lowe appears to be facing a tough sell for the 40 free-market condos. No council action has been taken.
As proposed, the hotel would be in one building, the 12 affiliated condos in another and the 40 remaining condos in a third. Basalt resident Greg Shugars said the property is too important for the future of Basalt to be impinged by all the development. He suggested removing the condos from the plan.
“If they go away, a lot of things open up,” Shugars said, drawing a loud cheer from the audience.
Former Basalt councilman Chris Lane noted he was on a residents’ committee appointed by the council to come up with recommendations for the site. He said the committee didn’t envision luxury housing on the property. He questioned if the 40 free-market condos, which Lowe said will start at $400,000 for a one-bedroom unit, will be affordable. He urged Lowe to look into building more affordable units, possibly by making them smaller.
But other speakers said the site isn’t appropriate for housing — affordable or otherwise.
Royal Laybourn, a Basalt businessman with a longtime interest in midvalley civic issues, urged the audience to check out Salida, the Arkansas River town with a large riverfront park and kayak course at its core. It’s a foundation of the town’s economy. Basalt has an opportunity to create something equally attractive, he said.
“The hotel we need. The condos we don’t,” Laybourn said.
Basalt resident Mark Kwiecienski said Basalt suffered severely during the recession and many people are looking for something to reignite vitality downtown.
“There’s this desperation or desire to do something to bring vibrancy to this delightful town,” he said.
But he argued that the town government cannot rush to approve Lowe’s proposal. It must give thorough thought to what the property should be in the future. The former Pan and Fork site combined with existing Old Pond Park creates nearly 1 mile of river frontage and creates a special atmosphere that only became apparent after the trailers were removed.
“That is absolutely the most important part of Basalt right there,” Kwiecienski said.
Jen “The Hen” Riffle, who worked to get Basalt to approve rules allowing backyard chickens a couple of years ago, said she represented 50 people who weren’t able to squeeze into the chambers for the meeting. Many of them, similar to her, are in their 30s, and have made commitments to live in Basalt, she said. The Pan and Fork property is important to their future.
“Let’s slow this down. Let’s make a long-term plan,” she urged.
Many speakers were supportive of the hotel portion of the project. Basalt resident Beth Mobilian, co-owner of Pinons Restaurant in Aspen, noted they have to close the popular establishment during offseasons because local residents don’t provide enough business to sustain it. What Basalt needs to boost vitality, she said, is hot beds from the hotel that is consistently attracting and turning over new customers.
Basalt resident Sharon Hall agreed, but stressed that unlike some other speakers, she sees a need for the condos affiliated with the hotel. They will provide longer-term opportunities that hotel units cannot provide, she said. That will be important when the Rocky Mountain Institute opens its office and Innovation Center adjacent to the Pan and Fork site. The renowned “think-and-do-tank” says it will attract innovators from around the world for conferences at its center, slated to be completed by December.
A handful of speakers supported Lowe Enterprise’s plan.
“I want to argue against slowing down,” said Basalt resident Bill Lohrs. Basalt’s “old town” is dying, he said, and Lowe is throwing a lifeline.
Basalt resident Kathleen Cole urged people to take a pragmatic approach. Lowe Enterprises needs a way to generate the funds necessary to cover the costs it must sink into buying the property, raising it out of the floodplain, installing infrastructure and constructing the building, she said. Building a hotel without the condos will be tough, she suggested.
Basalt resident John Black said some of Basalt’s biggest mistakes in the past were not approving development. If residents hadn’t voted against an annexation of property south of Highway 82 in the 1990s — where a new City Market was slated to go — Willits wouldn’t have been developed, he claimed.
“A park is not going to bring in a bunch of people,” Black said.
Some observers contend that downtown Basalt is suffering because of the town’s approval of Willits Town Center, anchored by Whole Foods and home of three major businesses that relocated from downtown.
However, the biggest applause of the evening, from people on all sides, came when downtown Basalt restaurant co-owner Cathy Click said Basaltines need to quit blaming Willits for downtown’s woes and expressing Carbondale envy.
“I am over people telling me that downtown is desperate for business,” Click said. The downtown survived the recession. Now, people must support their restaurants and shops.
“You need to get out and support the businesses that are here,” Click urged, to the crowd’s cheers.
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