Basalt growth debate sounds familiar

Scott CondonAspen, CO Colorado

BASALT A big debate that has erupted over a small, midvalley subdivision is a sure sign to some people that Basalt is turning into Aspen.To others, the spirited discussion simply represents a struggle to maintain the quality of life that they worked hard to create in the midvalley.The subdivision that is creating the fuss is known as Basalt Bluffs. It is in the high country on the north side of Highway 82, across from the Aspen Basalt Mobile Home Park.Mark Kwiecienski of Basalt is heading a development group that wants to build 11 free-market homes and four employee units on 5 acres.The Basalt planning commission reviewed the project earlier this year and recommended paring it down to seven free-market units and two employee units. Most of the neighbors in the surrounding Aspen Junction subdivision support the less dense version.”Thirteen units, 15 units, that’s kind of a gag point for us,” said Tom Newland, a neighbor of the proposed development and a representative of the Aspen Junction Homeowners Association.The developers counter that restricting them to fewer units will make them build larger homes. As proposed, the average house size would be about 3,000 square feet, with the four employee units considerably smaller.The planning commission recommendation would allow homes up to 5,000 square feet.”The idea of few units, larger units, is not really what we want to do,” said Doug Dotson, a land-use planner for the developers. Larger homes will be more expensive homes, he said.Newland said the idea that reducing the house size from 5,000 to 3,000 square feet will create affordable housing in this superheated real estate market “is a fallacy.””How affordable are either?” Newland asked.Other speakers from an audience of about 25 people said size is important.Mike Augello of the Pineridge condominiums said he disagreed with the planning commission’s recommendation for fewer, larger houses.”They’re going to be second homes,” Augello said. “They’re going to be castles. They’re going to be what’s happening in our valley.”He said the large houses being built everywhere else in the valley are destined to become second homes. Basalt should strive for something different.Critics of Aspen and Pitkin County’s strict growth controls claim preservation of open space came at a heavy price. It helped drive prices to the stratosphere. Basalt’s prices are headed in that direction. Dotson said the median price of homes listed for sale in Basalt is just less than $900,000.Kwiecienski and his partners haven’t disclosed yet what price they would seek for their 3,000-square-foot homes.Aspen Junction resident Paul Mayer said he wasn’t trying to reduce the density to drive up prices. He agrees that more affordable housing is needed. “Normal people can’t afford to live here anymore,” Mayer said.He said he could live with seven free-market units and four affordable housing units at Basalt Bluffs. But he supports reducing the total number of units to make it compatible with the rest of the neighborhood.Councilman Glenn Rappaport said he supported the developers’ vision. He said he is “very concerned” about house sizes because larger houses tend to attract second homeowners. He has nothing against them, he said, but wants to see Basalt remain a vibrant community populated by year-round residents.”Smaller units will cost less money than larger units,” Rappaport said.The council didn’t vote on the project after two hours of review Tuesday night. They said they need to visit the site and discuss issues with their attorney before making a decision. Future meeting dates aren’t scheduled yet.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is


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