Basalt ponders if ‘boom’ rules are outdated in the ‘bust’
June 19, 2011
BASALT – The Basalt Town Council is considering easing some of the tough growth-control regulations it put in place during the real estate boom of the last decade.
The council majority expressed a willingness at a June 14 work session to reconsider requirements for commercial developers to provide affordable housing for employees generated by their projects.
Currently, the town requires developers to provide housing for 25 percent of workers generated. For example, if an office and retail complex generates an estimated 12 jobs once constructed, the developer would have to provide housing for three employees.
Councilman Glenn Rappaport proposed that the requirement be eliminated. He said the rules are outdated because of the recession and economic hangover. The town needs to find incentives for development, not disincentives, he said.
“Why penalize people before they even get out of their car?” Rappaport asked. “I get people ripping me on the street on this stuff.”
Rappaport got animated while expressing his view and at one point apologized for “getting a little worked up.” Rappaport has never been a fan of affordable housing requirements. He has consistently said during his years on the council that the free market can address the needs.
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Councilman Pete McBride challenged Rappaport’s suggestion that the town’s rules were stifling development right now. He said free-market conditions are playing a much bigger role in the lack of development than town government regulations. Business is so slow right now that “we can’t fill our own restaurants,” McBride said. He challenged Rappaport’s notion that easing regulations will somehow prime development.
“You’re getting fired up like this is the root of our bad economy,” McBride said.
Rappaport said he didn’t mean to suggest the growth controls were responsible for the state of the midvalley economy. However, he said the town’s regulations, such as the affordable housing requirements, were a deterrent even during the booms times.
“I think we need to encourage people to do business here,” Rappaport said. “It doesn’t mean you throw the door open and let chaos reign.”
Councilwoman Karin Teague concurred that some of the town’s strictest growth-control measures, like requiring on-site affordable housing, are a “deal breaker” for some projects. The rules might not be killing “entrepreneurial spirit” right now, but they could be in three years as the economy improves, she said.
Mayor Leroy Duroux was mostly quiet during the debate, noting that he spoke against the regulations when they were enacted but lost that fight. Basalt enacted numerous growth-control measures in the middle- and late-2000s, including the establishment of an urban growth boundary, which defines where development will be allowed, and a quota system through which projects compete for a limited number of allotments.
Councilwoman Anne Freedman said she could consider easing affordable housing requirements for commercial projects, but not scrapping them. They were put in place for good reason – so Basalt doesn’t find itself in a position where all employees are migrating from farther downvalley.
“I really don’t want people driving from Rifle,” she said.
Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer said she could support reducing the housing requirement from 25 percent of the workers generated, but she didn’t support eliminating it.
Schwoerer and McBride focused instead on enhancing exemptions to benefit small businesses. Currently, developers don’t have to provide housing for employees generated in commercial spaces of 1,000 square feet or smaller. Schwoerer said that exemption should be boosted to 2,000 or even 3,000 square feet. McBride agreed with the larger exemption.
Rappaport argued that projects that generate a high number of employees, like 50, deserve the exemption just as much as smaller employers.
“Why am I hitting a person over the head who has a good concept?” I don’t understand it,” Rappaport said.
The council will consider adjustments to the housing rule later in the summer after the planning staff takes the council comments and crafts a proposed change to the regulation.