Basalt hires `fathers’ of growth control
Nearly 25 years after Joe Edwards and Dwight Shellman launched Pitkin County’s growth-control efforts, they have been enlisted to help Basalt face its development demons.
Edwards and Shellman were hired by the Basalt Town Council last week to write a land-use code that implements the vision expressed in the town’s new master plan.
They were hired as special counsels through March 2000. They will be paid $5,000 per month, according to the Town Council’s motion.
The two attorneys took Pitkin County politics by storm the early 1970s, first by winning county commissioner seats on anti-growth platforms, then by implementing growth-management measures and a controversial downzoning.
Much of the spirit of their work – if not actual code provisions – remains on the county books to this day.
Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens said the town will benefit from their experience. They know what worked and what didn’t in the upper valley’s growth-management struggles.
Edwards said he didn’t know how word of his hiring would be greeted by developers.
“I’ve kind of been low-profile for a decade, so I’m not sure they’d even remember,” he said. Edwards, who now lives in Missouri Heights and has a law practice in Carbondale, acknowledged that it’s exciting to start thinking about land-use issues again. He credited Basalt for trying to do things differently, as evidenced by a new master plan that was completed in August after 2 1/2 years of work.
“It’s definitely an improvement over what’s going on across most of the country,” said Edwards.
Instead of promoting the typical development pattern of residential suburbia and strip commercial that requires everyone to drive everywhere, Basalt is striving for a “living, breathing community where people live close to where they work,” Edwards noted.
He also credited town officials for pursuing a goal of keeping the rivers accessible to the public. The Rio Grande Trail west of Aspen was acquired during Edwards’ and Shellman’s time in office. He said the city made a mistake during that same period by not doing whatever was needed, including condemnation, to acquire river frontage from North Star Nature Preserve to the Rio Grande.
When asked if Basalt can implement the goals envisioned in the master plan without turning the town into an exclusive enclave for the rich, la Aspen, Edwards acknowledged the potential problem.
But he said the town is already working on good ideas to maintain socioeconomic diversity. The master plan heavily promotes mixed-use development, in which retail shops and even light-industrial businesses are incorporated into residential areas.
“That’s not particularly attractive to the second-home owner,” said Edwards.
The plan also places floor-area limits in Old Town. That helps prevent modest residences from being torn down for monster homes built from lot line to lot line.
In a retrospective look at his efforts in office, Edwards told The Aspen Times a few years ago that his biggest regret was not foreseeing the displacement of worker and middle-class housing. When asked if Basalt can avoid that same fate, Edwards replied, “That’s a serious problem that we’re going to be focusing on. I don’t have any one solution.”
On that issue and in general, he said he favors efforts such as Basalt’s that promote what kind of community is desired rather than efforts that rely on strict zoning enforcement to prevent something.
The challenge for Edwards and Shellman will be writing a code that provides some teeth to the master plan, but doesn’t create a heavy-handed enforcement nightmare.
Some developers would argue the town has already taken a heavy-handed approach to land use. Landowners Dan and Lynne Levinson filed a lawsuit against the town last month over the master plan’s implications for their property.
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