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Basalt ponders its growth rate

BASALT ” Basalt officials have assembled the guts of a new growth management system with one glaring exception ” they cannot agree on the proper pace of residential development.

The Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission along with the Basalt Town Council this week took the first step to radically overhaul their growth management system. Projects will be “scored” on 11 specific criteria, like affordable housing and open space. They must exceed a threshold level to be eligible for approval. The idea is to streamline the review process by letting developers know exactly what the town government wants and to get the best possible projects for the community.

“It will weed out projects that don’t meet town priorities,” land-use planning consultant Alan Richman told the council and commission members.

Richman and the town planning staff recommended allocating approvals for only 55 residential units per year. There would be no limits on commercial and lodging units that achieve a threshold score.

The limit on new residences will hold the town’s growth rate at or below 3.5 percent ” significantly lower than the 4.8 percent Basalt had been experiencing before the recession, according to town planning director Susan Philp.

But Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt said 3.5 percent is misleading because so many residences have been approved but are yet to be built in Basalt. Philp confirmed that roughly 300 units are approved but yet to be built. About 300 additional units are in the review pipeline, she said.

Once the economy improves, the developers will proceed with those projects and Basalt will experience a boom ” with a growth rate potentially higher than 3.5 percent, Whitsitt said at a joint meeting of the council and planning commission.

“I have to sort of regroup on this growth rate,” Whitsitt said. “It seems ridiculous to me to call it anything like growth control.”

Whitsitt said she wants fewer than 55 residences approved annually in the future to lower the growth rate closer to 1 percent.

Councilman Chris Seldin said he shared Whitsitt’s concerns, and Councilman Pete McBride noted that an annual growth rate of 4 percent would double Basalt’s population of 3,500 people in 16 years. A growth rate of 2.4 percent would double the population in about 30 years, he said.

The growth control debate comes at a time when the town’s population is probably shrinking. The rental vacancy rate suggests the recession is driving workers out of the area because they cannot find work.

Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux said the town issued one permit for a new single-family home in 2008. An in-depth analysis by the Eagle County government shows Basalt will remain the second smallest town in the county based on current zoning and land-use policies, he said.

Duroux indicated he didn’t agree with Whitsitt’s desire to lower the growth rate. Planning commission member Lis Conners noted Basalt residents said at recent community vision meetings that they want increased vitality in the town. She questioned if that can be accomplished by cutting back the targeted growth rate.

The two boards ultimately couldn’t settle the growth rate debate. They granted the first of two approvals needed for the new growth management system, but will resume the growth rate debate on April 14.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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