Basalt makes moves to get grip on growth
BASALT ” Two months after placing a nine-month moratorium on major new development applications, the Basalt Town Council has taken two additional steps to control growth.
The council voted 6-1 Tuesday night to sign an agreement with Eagle County that, in theory, gives Basalt more influence on development just outside of town boundaries.
In an unrelated move Tuesday night, the council decided it will only review one development application per meeting, even if multiple proposals are stacked up and waiting to be heard.
The agreement with Eagle County could make it tougher for developers to “jurisdiction shop,” or submit an application to the government that has the weakest regulations. To discourage that, the governments agreed to apply the toughest affordable-housing requirements on fringe-area developments. In addition, Eagle County will discourage urban-level commercial projects that are located outside the town’s urban growth boundary ” or the area Basalt deems suitable for urban growth. Basalt planning director Susan Philp called the agreement a “good first step” in coordinating growth with Eagle County. The town already has a similar deal in place with Pitkin County.
Basalt Town Manager Bill Efting said the agreement with Eagle County “is almost a historical moment.” County officials in the past have resisted relinquishing any powers in land-use matters, he noted.
“Does it have all the enforcement teeth? No,” Efting acknowledged.
“Does it have any?” asked Basalt Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt.
It gets the parties working together on a higher level than ever before, Efting responded.
Councilman Chris Seldin supported signing the agreement rather than trying to negotiate tougher teeth. Strategically, he said, it’s best to get some agreement in place before the November election, when two of the three Eagle County commissioner seats are up. If a deal gets stalled in negotiations, Basalt runs the risk of opposition from the next board majority.
Whitsitt argued that the threat of change on the Eagle County board is exactly why the town should push for stronger terms now. If the agreement doesn’t have enforcement teeth, it might be useless if the county commission turns over, she said. Councilwoman Amy Capron said she understood both views. “This doesn’t have as much teeth as perhaps we’d like,” Capron said. But she said getting something approved as soon as possible, then possibly seeking a stronger agreement in the future, would be the best move.
Whitsitt cast the sole vote against that tactic.
Meanwhile, Basalt made a move that will slow growth within town limits even further. The town already has a moratorium on new projects. Only projects that had first-round approval as of early June were allowed to proceed in the review process.
Now the council is slowing down the process for the projects that made that cut.
The council’s agenda for Sept. 9 included presentations on three major development applications ” the Stott’s Mill, Jadwin and Pokorny/Flying Fish projects. Seldin objected to the lineup, saying it is difficult to absorb that much information in one sitting.
“To do three in one night, that’s just brain death,” Seldin said.
Councilman Gary Tennenbaum agreed that it is much easier to concentrate on one development proposal per meeting.
Developers and land-use consultants consistently object that it already takes considerable time to make it through the review process. Briston Peterson, a partner in the Stott’s Mill development project, told the council in June that his project has been in the review process for nearly four years.
“The process in itself is a moratorium,” he said.
The council majority said Tuesday they need time to work on town issues, not just review applications. During the moratorium, the council has met with consultants and its planning staff to determine what new rules and regulations it needs to deal with Basalt’s growth pressures.
The council voted 6-1 to review only one project per meeting, realizing that some projects require numerous meetings. Mayor Leroy Duroux dissented. He said he didn’t think the challenge of absorbing information was a good enough reason to limit reviews to one project per meeting.
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The city of Aspen is supposed to break ground on 300-plus housing units in 2024 but if Monday’s meeting with elected officials is any indication, the project could take years before coming online.