Basalt OKs expansion at Willits |

Basalt OKs expansion at Willits

Scott Condon
Aspen, CO Colorado

BASALT ” When Michael Lipkin walked into Basalt Town Hall on Tuesday night for a potentially volatile review of his proposed Willits Town Center expansion, he did what any bold developer would do ” he asked for more.

His brazen move paid off. The Town Council voted 5-0 to grant the first of two approvals Lipkin needed to expand his 500,000-square-foot village.

Lipkin initially proposed to add 100 new housing unit to Willits Town Center. He surprised town planners Tuesday by increasing his request to 120 residences.

The mix includes 60 free-market units that Lipkin can sell for whatever the market will bear and 24 units with deed restrictions on sales prices or rents. The remaining 36 units will be resident occupied ” a hybrid between free-market and deed-restricted. Of those RO units, seven will have appreciation caps while 29 will have no restrictions ” other than that the buyers must be full-time residents of the Roaring Fork Valley.

The new units Lipkin added Tuesday are all affordable housing. Lipkin and his partners, Joseph Freed and Associates, want to exceed affordable housing requirements, their attorney, Jody Edwards, told the council.

The free-market residences will add 85,000 square feet to Willits Town Center. The affordable housing units will add up to 65,000 square feet, Lipkin said.

That will boost the project to more than 650,000 square feet of retail shops, restaurants, lofts and condominiums. Willits, just upvalley from the El Jebel City Market, is currently about 25 percent built out.

The approval also amends Lipkin’s prior project to allow him to tweak the layout of commercial space to accommodate a Whole Foods supermarket. The previous approval capped the size for any single business at 27,500 square feet. The amendment boosts the size to 45,000 square feet.

Whole Foods Markets has signed a contract to open a store in Willits later this decade.

Joseph Freed and Associates, represented by Tim Belinski, and Lipkin sought the additional residences to help pay for infrastructure. They claimed they must spend between $30 million and $35 million, at today’s construction prices, to build 900 underground parking spaces in the village core. They aren’t required to plant the parking, but Lipkin said his vision is for a pedestrian-friendly core where surface parking is available for shops and restaurants.

The council approved the expansion despite protests from a handful of growth foes and concerns from Willits residents about the impacts of higher density, such as more traffic.

“I am a supporter of it. I’ve been a supporter all along,” said Councilman Glenn Rappaport.

He said Willits Town Center is an appropriate place for higher density since it already has existing infrastructure, is close to bus stops and located by shopping and services.

“We’re not going to convince everybody that density is a good thing,” Rappaport said.

Council members Laurie Dows and Mayor Leroy Duroux echoed Rappaport’s reasoning.

Two former Basalt council members lobbied unsuccessfully against the expansion.

Anne Freedman, who served on the board for eight years, argued that the sales tax from the commercial portion of Willits Town Center might not offset the additional costs to the town from the residential neighborhoods. She urged the town government to have an independent economic analysis of the project to determine the costs and benefits.

Freedman also questioned whether resident-occupied housing really qualifies as affordable. The restrictions might reduce the sales price of RO units from $750,000 to $700,000, Freedman said. “It does nothing for affordable housing.”

Jacque Whitsitt, who also served eight years on the council, also urged the council to look at the costs associated with the project and to consider if Basalt is approaching its capacity to provide services such as schools, police and adequate roads.

Freedman suggested the town is too enamored with Whole Foods. “Is a yuppie food store really worth the cost to the town?” she asked.

Councilman Chris Seldin expressed doubts. He said he likes Whole Foods as well as Lipkin’s vision for Willits Town Center, but he questioned the size of the expansion.

“This is where we need to have growth in our town,” Seldin said. “[But] that’s a big piece of growth.”

He said he wanted to see a fiscal analysis of Willits, as Freedman suggested.

Duroux said he didn’t want to spend the money. An economic study “is just somebody’s guess on what the future’s going to be,” he said.

When it came time to vote, Seldin dropped his objections to the Willits expansion. Councilman Amy Capron added the fifth vote of support. Councilmen Mark Kittle and Gary Tennenbaum didn’t attend the meeting.

The Willits expansion will return to the board for a second vote and public hearing on Oct. 9.