Basalt now knows what it wants to be when it grows

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

BASALT ” The Basalt Town Council on Tuesday night passed a third piece of sweeping legislation designed to guide how the town will grow for years to come.

The council voted 6-1, with Mayor Leroy Duroux dissenting, to approve new rules that make it tougher for additional real estate sales offices, banks and other professional services to open shop on Midland Avenue, the main drag. Instead, the rules favor retail stores and other uses designed to bring “vitality” to the core.

Earlier this spring, the council approved a new growth-management system and tougher requirements for affordable housing. The growth-management system, patterned after Pitkin County’s methods, awards developers who include hefty amounts of community benefits in their plans, like open space and affordable housing. The affordable housing regulations are intended to preserve a mix of housing for people of different socio-economic backgrounds.

“Overall, it’s an effort on the town’s part to get ahead of growth,” said land-use planning consultant Alan Richman, who helped write the new rules.

Councilman Chris Seldin summarized the goals as: “Keeping Basalt vibrant, affordable to working families, and distinctively different from Anywhere, U.S.A., is the common thread that ties together all of these efforts.”

The town has been working on the regulations for the last 11 months, since a moratorium was approved that prohibits most new major development applications. The economic meltdown also gave the town breathing room to work on the new rules without development pressure. The moratorium expires June 10.

Richman said the new regulations will give developers a better idea of what the town expects. The rules essentially rewrite town codes to match the vision laid out in the town’s master plan ” a blueprint for growth. Clearly defining the rules and goals could speed the review process.

“Before it was ” applicants throw a dart without much of a target,” Richman said.

Following is a summary of the three new rules and the goals:

How does it work? The town created a list of “community-vitality uses” that it deemed desirable downtown. The first 25 feet in depth on the first floor of buildings in the Midland Avenue and Two Rivers Road downtown core must be devoted to those uses. Existing businesses that aren’t considered community-vitality uses are grandfathered in but face limitations in expanding.

What is the goal? The town wants businesses that attract people to the core and add to the community’s vitality. They don’t want to create a “dead zone” dominated by real estate sales offices and banks. Community-serving uses include retail shops, restaurants and bars, lodges and nonprofit organizations.

How does it work? The town established a scoring system that assigns a value to a development application. Higher scores are earned by providing community benefits like affordable housing and open space.

What is the goal? The competition produces better projects. The town will issue only 32 development allotments per year for free-market residences. If there are applications for more than 32 units, developers compete and the highest scores win. Losers must resubmit after tweaking applications.

How does it work? The new rules change the formula used to determine how much affordable housing must be included in new projects. As much as 35 percent of the square footage in residential developments must be affordable housing. Commercial development would have to provide affordable housing for as much as 25 percent of employees generated, with exceptions for smaller businesses.

What is the goal? The town wants development to pay more of its way when it comes to affordable housing. The intent is to increase the stock of “community housing” without creating onerous requirements that snuff all development.