Basalt eyes house-size cap |

Basalt eyes house-size cap

The Basalt Town Council took another step in its crackdown on growth Tuesday night by directing its staff to study setting a house-size cap.

The majority of the council members present at a work session embraced the staff’s suggestion that new homes be limited to 5,000 square feet.

Councilwoman Anne Freedman said a cap should be considered immediately.

“We’re going to have a 15,000-square-foot home before we turn around,” Freedman said. “Absolutely, we have to look at that.”

Basalt already has regulations that limit homes in what’s known as the Hill District to 4,500 square feet. Practically speaking, homes in most of the town are limited because of small lot sizes.

But areas like River Oaks and Riverside Drive could accommodate larger homes – the ones that have been derisively labeled “monster homes” or “starter castles” in the Aspen area.

Councilman Leroy Duroux warned that any legislation to limit house sizes has to be clearly defined, so builders and town staff don’t hire attorneys and planners to debate dueling interpretations.

Duroux also warned that limiting house sizes could stifle architectural expression in new homes. For example, if decks, porches and other features count toward the 5,000 square feet, they will be eliminated. He feared that the town could “end up with square boxes with no overhangs.”

Councilman Jon Fox-Rubin supported the cap and warned against excluding basements from the limit. Excluding underground space would spur “three-level basements” and situations where “people are building into their neighbors septic tanks,” he predicted.

The suggestion to cap house size came up unexpectedly at a work session on affordable housing guidelines, so the council hasn’t received any public reaction yet.

Town Manager Tom Baker, a former planner and housing director for the governments of Aspen and Pitkin County, acknowledged after the work session that the Basalt government will take some political heat over the issue.

“Yeah, it’ll strike a nerve,” he said.

Freedman said she didn’t think people already living in Basalt will have any problem with the proposal. Their homes are significantly smaller than 5,000 square feet.

“The only people that will really have a fit are some of the realtors,” said Freedman after the meeting.

The same work session produced a radical suggestion that staff study ways to encourage development of commercial space that is deed-restricted at affordable rents.

Council members expressed concerns that free-market rents for retail shops have reached a point where small-business owners are shut out. They urged the staff to look at tools for controlling rents in some spaces.

“We’re at the point in our economy where it could make sense to have restricted commercial space, so we’ll take a look at that,” said Baker.

He took part in efforts in Aspen to encourage development of affordable commercial space. Those efforts never proved fruitful, he noted.

Efforts to limit house sizes have been more successful. Pitkin County has enacted two caps in the last decade.

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