Basalt: No need to delay golf plan | AspenTimes.com

Basalt: No need to delay golf plan

A Basalt golf course developer’s offer to place his application temporarily on hold so the government could finish additional land-use planning was turned down by town officials Tuesday night.The Basalt Town Council and planning commission said there was no reason to delay review of the Roaring Fork Club’s proposal to add nine holes of golf, build additional luxury cabins and add other residences.Jim Light, the managing partner of the golf and fishing club, had offered to place the review on hold for up to eight weeks so land-use planning could be updated for two ranches where the club wants to expand.Critics of the golf course expansion claim the proposal violates the current land-use master plan and that its review should wait until after that master plan is updated.But the majority of town officials said the delay was unnecessary because the town already has the tools to review the project and update the master plan simultaneously in a kind of hybrid process.”I didn’t think we needed to spend $20,000 to $25,000 of taxpayer money to deal with this,” said Basalt Councilman Glenn Rappaport.Planning commission member Bill Maron challenged the claim that the golf club’s plan for 24 more cabins, more than 30 employee housing units and 13 single-family home lots is “urban.” The residences would be spread among 200 acres that would mostly remain open space for golf holes.Maron said he suspects the project’s foes might really be opposed to second homes but are cloaking that opposition in process issues. “To not call a spade a spade is just not fair,” he said.Councilwoman Tiffany Ernemann also said she isn’t convinced that the application violates the town’s existing master plan. That plan was completed in 1999 after thousands of dollars in consultants’ fees and hundreds of hours of citizen input. The town is embarking on an update of that 6-year-old plan.”I’m still not convinced we’re ignoring the rules,” Ernemann said. “That’s the threshold issue.”Ernemann also said it would be unfair to delay the review of the golf club’s proposal and any other application while the town works on its master plan update. The world doesn’t operate that way, she said.”That’s not the intent – to stop the world while we update,” Ernemann said.Audience members spoke on both sides of the issue.Mike Pixley, a resident of Elk Run, said he supports the expansion of the golf course into the pasture near his house. He said he believes the majority of town residents also support the proposal.Pixley said Basalt’s officials should be trusted to make a decision on the development application and that the master plan shouldn’t be treated like the U.S. Bill of Rights since it’s not even a legally binding document.”The master plan is like quicksand. We’ve got our feet in quicksand and we don’t know how to get them out,” he warned.Jacque Whitsitt, a former councilwoman, countered that Basalt residents put a lot of effort into the master plan. The document says most of the ranch where the golf course wants to expand should continue to be used for agriculture. The ranch is outside the urban growth boundary, or the area where higher-density development was deemed appropriate.”The master plan is the commitment the [council and planning commission] made with the community,” Whitsitt said.Once it became apparent the majority of board members wanted to review the Roaring Fork Club’s plan while concurrently updating the master plan, the focus shifted on how to accomplish it.Rappaport said the town needs to somehow establish a more open dialogue with people on all sides of the issue. The normal government process of allowing an audience member three minutes to speak on a narrow topic doesn’t work.The challenge, he suggested, will be establishing a dialogue between two groups that interpret the town master plan differently.It’s never good for debate when one side is perceived as “baby killers” and the other side as “religious fanatics,” Rappaport said, making a point about how small-town politics can alienate and divide people.The board’s decision to proceed with the review could have a ripple effect in Basalt politics. A citizens group says it will launch a petition effort to try to force an election to block review of the golf project until the master plan is reviewed.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com