Basalt planning board wants more scrutiny of major downtown project

Project failed to earn first-round approval

The Basalt Planning Commission declined Tuesday night to grant first-round approval to a downtown project for 70 apartments and a 9,157-square-foot commercial space pegged for a grocery store.

A motion to grant sketch plan approval failed 4-3. Instead, the board majority wanted to continue negotiations with developers Tim Belinski and Andrew Light to try to improve the project.

Longtime commission member Bill Maron said the developers appeared to take the easiest path to comply with the Basalt master plan. What resulted, he said, is a “suburban-looking building in the middle of a parking lot.”

Commission member Rob Leavitt said the proposal was “half-baked” and needs more discussion.

Maron and Leavitt voted against approval along with Eric Vozick and Michelle Thibeault. Commission members Geno Rossetti, Kyle Oberkoetter and Bernie Grauer voted to recommend approval to the town council.

The planning commission will resume discussions in August.

The developers want to tear down the 25,000-square-foot building near the heart of downtown Basalt that once housed Clark’s Market and replace it with the grocery store on the ground level and apartments above. The grocery store was proposed because that emerged as a leading desire of residents for downtown in the 2020 master plan.

One of the sticking points of the development proposal was affordable housing. The developers want to take advantage of a provision in the town’s land use code to reduce the amount of affordable housing from 25% of the residences to 15% by implementing a 1.5% real estate transfer assessment.

Under that scenario, the developers would build 11 deed-restricted apartments. The RETA would be applied if the commercial space was sold or if the apartment complex was sold or individually sold as condos.

Grauer said the old Clark’s Market site was identified in the master plan as a prime site for affordable housing. He wanted to see more of it.

“I think it’s a bit of a leap,” Grauer said of the developer’s proposal to reduce housing and implement a RETA. “How does that produce any income?”

The developers noted that the newest apartment building in Willits Town Center sold within six months of completion. Grauer countered that he was on the Town Council when the RETA option was written into the code. He said there was never discussion about it applying to something such as an apartment complex.

“I think that’s kind of a muddy quagmire on how it would apply here,” he said.

The planning commission started its meeting with a closed session to discuss if the town had any discretion to require more affordable housing and reject the RETA. Town planners said the town attorney advised them there was no discretion.

Grauer ultimately got to a point where he could support the project with the caveat that the Town Council discuss ways with the developers to increase the amount of housing.

Some planning commission members were lukewarm about the idea of a boutique grocery store, in part because they aren’t convinced it will succeed. Ironically, an existing downtown market called Skip’s announced Tuesday that it would expand its space this fall. Skip’s focuses on locally grown fruits, vegetables, produce and meats.

Leavitt said the developer’s plan “isn’t the best project,” but it did address two top concerns of residents that emerged in the master plan process.

“We don’t have a lot of pushback,” he said prior to the vote. The commission’s unwillingness to approve the project might have provided the pushback.


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