Basalt draws up plan for getting more hip
December 3, 2008
BASALT ” Basalt’s got a case of Carbondale envy.
It’s not so much jealousy as it is admiration. The symptoms emerged in mid-November when about 150 residents turned out at three separate meetings organized by the town government to talk about what they want to see in the downtown core.
A recurring theme was that Basaltines want a hip place to hang out, some place with vibrancy, fun things to do and events that will bring them together.
Sort of like Carbondale, several speakers at those meeting mentioned. Carbondale has developed a knack for putting on cool community events. It started decades ago with Mountain Fair and has grown with a variety of street parties downtown. Lately they have added cool places to gather, like a performing arts theater and a recreation center.
Basalt residents had numerous suggestions for how to make their town more of a vibrant, hip place ” from establishing a town piazza where people can hang out to organizing a farmer’s market. The meetings left people feeling energized and optimistic about making their delightful mountain town an even better place to live.
Basalt town leaders gathered Tuesday night to digest what they learned at those meetings and contemplate how to apply the best suggestions. They concluded it will hinge on keeping residents engaged in efforts to build the type of community they desire.
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“I think ultimately we have to learn from Carbondale,” said Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux. “Carbondale events are put on by citizens and not the government.”
Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt noted that Carbondale residents mounted a grassroots effort to build the performing arts theater. It wasn’t a government-driven effort. At one point in last night’s joint meeting between the Town Council and Planning and Zoning Commission, she expressed dismay when talk focused on preserving a grocery store and hotel in downtown Basalt. She steered the discussion back to residents’ desires to create a more vibrant downtown.
“I think it has to be something a little more sexy than a grocery store,” Whitsitt said.
The town leaders decided they need a two-pronged approach to set a course for their downtown. First, they will try to re-enlist the 150 residents who got excited enough to attend the meetings last month to talk about what they want in the downtown. They will try at future meetings to get those residents to focus on three or so events, activities or other steps that can boost civic engagement. And, just as importantly, they will try to get volunteers to join efforts to bring the ideas to fruition.
“We really want to keep the momentum going,” said Chris Gates, a consultant hired by the town to head the downtown discussions. The worst thing that could happen after those earlier meetings is for residents to feel all their ideas have disappeared “in the black box of government,” Gates said.
“What we have now is a tremendous swell of public interest,” agreed Bill Maron, a longtime member of the Planning and Zoning Commission.
At the same time that residents are tapped to help create a broader sense of community, the town will work on ways to protect and enhance the qualities that residents say they like about the downtown.
What that entails isn’t exactly clear yet. But steps could include encouraging a redevelopment of the current Clark’s Market area into a project that dovetails more closely with Midland Avenue, the town’s main street less than a block away.
Other ideas kicked around included:
Establish a preference for retail shops, art galleries and restaurants in the ground-floor spaces in the compact core and discourage further proliferation of offices. The idea is to build enough critical mass of stores to attract people.
Offer incentives to developers who create affordable space for the types of businesses that people said they want to see ” including ice cream parlors and burger joints.
Enhance the road and trail connections between downtown Basalt, the south side and the Willits areas.
Require that new development keep the historic feel of most of the architecture in the core.
Those steps and others will be explored by the town boards in the next three months, before a nine-month growth moratorium is set to expire. The meeting designed to encourage greater resident involvement will likely occur in January.