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Basalt library proposal raises questions

BASALT ” Sixteen months after midvalley voters approved a property tax increase to build an $11 million library in Basalt, major questions surfaced about the project on Tuesday.

In a joint meeting of the Basalt Town Council and Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission, some officials raised doubts about selling land for the facility while others questioned why the library district should be exempt from building affordable housing.

There was no indication the project will be derailed, but library district officials might face tough questions as the review progresses.

The Basalt Regional Library District wants to build a 21,000-square-foot facility on a site between the Basalt post office and skateboard park. It has a contract to purchase the 1.5-acre site from the town government.

The library district is working on the final design of the new facility and hopes to break ground this summer.

Planning commission member and former Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens said the community might be better off if the town leases the site to the library district rather than sells it.

If the town retained ownership, Stevens said, it might be able to do more with the site in the future, like build affordable housing. Only about half of the site can be developed now because of floodplain issues. However, Basalt is trying to mitigate flooding potential, so more of the site might be developable in the future.

Stevens also raised a question about the library district’s ability to build the new facility within budget. The design process took longer than library officials originally planned. Meanwhile, inflation in construction costs has jumped by double digits annually.

“Eleven million two years ago isn’t 11 million today,” said Stevens, a partner in Aspen Earthmoving. “I really have a concern they’re going to run out of money before they get this built.”

Michael Hassig, who is heading the architectural team for the library district, responded that a contractor has been consulted throughout the final design. The proposed facility can be built within the budget, he insisted.

Stevens’ suggestion that the site should be leased rather than sold to the library district caused some consternation among other members of the planning commission and Town Council. Councilman Glenn Rappaport said the decision was made 31⁄2 years ago to sell the site. It’s a “done deal” in his mind, he said.

Planning commission member Bernie Grauer said renegotiating the contract could cause delays in the library district’s planning. He said the community wants a new facility and would hold town officials accountable if there were further delays.

Stevens responded that he didn’t want to delay the project. He said he simply wants to do what he feels is best for the community.

Councilman Gary Tennenbaum also said a lease of the site might make more sense than a sale.

Another point of contention was affordable housing. In a memorandum of understanding with the library district, the town government previously said no affordable housing would be required. In addition, the town staff has determined that the library wasn’t a commercial facility, so it is exempt from building affordable housing.

Planning commission member Brian Dillard said the exemption makes no sense. The town government requires every developer who proposes a project to meet strict affordable housing requirements, he noted. Dillard suggested that the library district shouldn’t be held to a different, lower standard.

Dillard also said the library district should take advantage of the opportunity to build housing while it is under construction. The district has experienced trouble recruiting and retaining a director in recent years, in part because of the high cost of living in the area. Library district officials acknowledged that employee housing is a concern, but one they weren’t prepared to deal with at the new library site.

No action was taken Tuesday night on the library district’s proposed new facility. The planning commission will resume the review next Tuesday and then forward a recommendation to the Town Council.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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