Basalt mayor opposes hotel, condo project; offers alternative
Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt came out Tuesday night against a proposal to put a hotel and condominiums on property near downtown.
It was the first definitive statement made by a council member about a proposal by Lowe Enterprises to build a 60-room boutique hotel, 12 luxury condos and 40 condos targeted for year-round residents. The location is the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park site just west of downtown.
Reading from a statement during a work session Tuesday, Whitsitt said Basalt has “approved away” access to many of its riverfront areas.
“I believe what is left needs to be preserved with wide-open spaces for all kinds of activities,” Whitsitt said. “Restaurants and recreation are ideally suited for this site.”
She said she visualizes development more like a restaurant in Salida that hangs over the river so patrons can watch the river activities on the surrounding riverfront.
“High-end housing was not and has not been at the top of our list of community needs,” Whitsitt said. “And I don’t believe the river front is the place for high-end or affordable housing.”
She outlined an alternative vision based on models of Carbondale and other “award-winning towns” that is based on concerts, events, arts and people rather than buildings, condos and hotels.
“Their events were created by the community and for the community and they attract visitors from throughout the region,” Whitsitt said. “That’s what I envision happening along the river if we’re willing to seize the opportunity.”
Whitsitt said she sees the site becoming a regional gathering place focused on recreation, art and community events.
The town government owns 2.9 acres of the site and is building a riverfront park. Lowe Enterprises has a contract to acquire the remaining 2.4 acres, closest to Two Rivers Road.
Basalt town government has spent $2.4 million to move the residents of the former mobile home park and raise the developable half out of the flood plain. Those expenses will have to be repaid by a developer.
Lowe Enterprises hasn’t submitted a formal application yet but it outlined its general plan to the council March 10 and held an open house March 12. Representatives of the firm said at the time they were looking for honest feedback on the plan.
Whitsitt appears to be risking the wrath of part of the community for her comments. Many people have already spoken in favor of Lowe’s plan although some opposition also has emerged. The council didn’t take public comment at Tuesday’s work session, which was attended by about 20 people.
After the meeting, Basalt resident Lynne Mace said she doesn’t agree with Whitsitt that the condominiums and hotel wouldn’t be a good step to revitalize the town. When the Roaring Fork Club was built, it provided a huge economic boost even though it isn’t used year-round, Mace said.
The other council members had mixed reactions to Whitsitt’s comments.
Councilman Rick Stevens questioned why opposition is appearing now after the community has engaged in a lengthy process to determine what it wants to see on the site. He said Basalt declared it was going to set a vision for the Pan and Fork and other properties, ask developers to match those visions and stop doing business as usual.
“Now we’re back-pedaling,” Stevens said. He warned that Lowe Enterprises might “back off” until Basalt decides what it wants.
Councilman Herschel Ross said Basalt’s development of the riverfront park will provide access to the Roaring Fork River from the Midland Bridge to Old Pond Park. Lowe’s plan provides additional open space.
Ross also said Basalt could use a diversity of housing.
“So far, I’m pretty intrigued with the plan Lowe came forward with,” Ross said, adding that some tweaks may be necessary.
Stevens agreed that some tweaks might be needed, but he doesn’t want to spend a lot of time debating issues such as the amount of open space.
Councilman Bernie Grauer countered by asking if the council should just go ahead and let Lowe build its project as proposed. For him, the answer is a definitive “no.”
The council’s responsibility is to get the big issues out. That requires getting facts and figures on building heights and square footages. He wants “lines on the ground and poles in the air” to show the location and impact of the buildings.
So far, the council has only seen “pretty pictures on the wall,” he said.
Grauer said he wants vitality but not at the expense of affordable housing and preservation of Basalt’s character. He said he wants continue to work with Lowe to craft a good project.
The council is scheduled to dive into details of Lowe’s plan April 14 at a community meeting at Basalt Regional Library. Whitsitt said the town is in the process of scheduling another meeting prior to April 14.
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Just in time for Halloween, the Pitkin County Board of Health voted 4-2 to reduce the size of informal gatherings from 10 to five for at least the next two weeks starting Friday. According to the public health director, officials are currently investigating 11 outbreaks in Pitkin County.