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Basalt growth plan a powder keg

Scott Condon

When Bernie Grauer looks at the draft of a land-use plan that’s supposed to chart Basalt’s growth for years to come, he sees a gargantuan proposal that will destroy the town’s small-town character.Grauer, a member of the town’s planning commission, said he cannot support a plan for Basalt that proposes more development than the 1 million square feet planned by the Aspen Skiing Co. at Base Village in Snowmass Village.But when John Swanson looks at that same plan, he sees a great blueprint to guide Basalt’s growth for decades. The plan accurately reflects the thousands of hours invested by a citizens’ group into planning issues over a five-year period, said Swanson, a member of that committee.Like Grauer and Swanson, Basalt town government officials and a core group of civic activists are split over what’s known as the River Master Development Plan.That plan is supposed to figure out a way to remove structures from land along the Roaring Fork River that is in harm’s way of a big flood. Those lands would be preserved as parks and open spaces. In return, developers would be allowed to develop larger projects farther back from the river.Grauer is part of a faction that believes the plan’s tentative proposal for 1.2 million square feet of commercial and residential square footage coupled with 2,300 additional parking spaces will congest the town and foul its air.Basaltine Jim Paussa claimed the town would pay too grave a price by implementing the plan. “It almost looks like ‘save the river, kill the town,'” Paussa said.Jacque Whitsitt, a former member of the Basalt Town Council, suggested the planning process was out of the control of town officials and in the control of Design Workshop and other town consultants. She said it was like the town government fell asleep while it had a puppy, then awoke and found the puppy transformed into an elephant.Whitsitt urged the planning commission and Town Council at a meeting last night to scrap the plan and start from scratch.But Ted Guy countered with his own metaphor to urge the town officials to stay the course. He likened the town’s work to writing “War and Peace.” The town is just completing chapter two of the tome, Guy said. Scrapping the work and starting over would be “irresponsible,” he said.The elected officials – who must ultimately settle the fate of the plan – gave it mixed reviews. Councilwoman Anne Freedman said she wouldn’t support a plan that allows such a large dose of development.Councilwoman Tiffany Ernemann said the critics were jumping the gun. No one has signed off on 1.2 million square feet of development. That figure will be “very well hashed out” before the plan is finished, she said.Ernemann supported the progress the council and planning commission were making on parts of the plan.Mayor Leroy Duroux credited Design Workshop for helping town officials envision how to allow development while creating the best vehicular and pedestrian circulation.Duroux agreed that 1.2 million square feet of development is tough to swallow. But over a 50-year period, it might be appropriate for Basalt, he said.The town government hasn’t even gotten to the point where it formally asks its citizens to weigh in on the plan. The debate is sure to go on all winter and there is no timetable for adopting the plan.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com