Basalt residents brainstorm on downtown vitality |

Basalt residents brainstorm on downtown vitality

Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times

BASALT ” Basalt residents want to have fun and they want a place downtown to have it.

Scores of residents expressed variations of that theme Thursday and Friday at meetings held so they could share their thoughts about downtown ” what makes it cool, what threatens it and how it should evolve. The idea is to use the comments from the meeting to shape Town Hall policy.

These weren’t the usual meetings that town governments hold that attract a few familiar faces. Town consultant Chris Gates and a marketing firm he hired were able to lure a broad cross section of Basaltines. Architects, planners, shopkeepers and house moms were among the 75 or so folks who attended Friday morning. About 50 people attended a similar meeting Thursday night and about 30 attended a noon meeting in Aspen designed to capture workers who couldn’t otherwise attend. Basalt rarely gets that much participation in community meetings.

Diane Schwener of Basalt attended Friday morning and was impressed by the turnout.

“It showed a town eager to be heard and eager to help,” she said.

Crowd members seemed energized by the meeting and interested in a dialogue even if their particular point wasn’t shared by the broader audience, Schwener noted.

“Everybody had a strong sense of ‘that was really good,'” she said.

Some of the things speakers said they like about downtown included: the historic feel, independently owned businesses, pedestrian-friendliness, an appropriate relationship between the size of buildings and the space available, the lack of strip centers, the welcoming atmosphere for dogs, the dozens of trees that Charlie Cole planted downtown a few years ago and the awesome flowers and landscaping in public spaces by town arborist Lisa DiNardo.

People clearly love the core off of Midland Avenue, Basalt’s main street.

Some people expressed concerns that parking is taking over downtown and that a parking garage could ruin the atmosphere sometime in the future. On the flip side, some people were concerned about lack of parking.

One speaker cursed light pollution. Another said Midland Avenue needs more festive lights around the holidays.

The town’s lack of night-time vitality was lamented. “This town shuts down after 7,” he said. Another audience member responded that is exactly what older folks desire.

It was universally agreed that Basalt could use more activities ” more special events that lure crowds downtown but also standing events, like a summer farmers’ market, that keeps the core lively.

Basalt’s sister midvalley town was identified as a model for what Basalt should do.

“We need to learn from Carbondale and the things they’re doing,” one person said.

Simple things like an ice cream parlors and affordable burger joints were also crowd favorites.

As the meeting evolved, the attendees met in groups and were asked to focus on specific proposals to vitalize the core. The top suggestions included establishing a town gathering spot, like a downtown plaza. One speaker noted that every village, town and city in Europe has the meeting places, which really establish community.

The concept of luring Aspen Music School students to Basalt to play some summer evenings to liven the atmosphere also was popular.

Another widely-accepted proposal was using the decommissioned bridge across the Roaring Fork River near 7-Eleven for public events, like a weekly farmers’ market.

Schwener said it was rewarding to see a a good community discussion and interaction. She said she hopes the input influences Town Council decisions and the Basalt Chamber of Commerce’s direction.

“To me, that’s the way a small-town community should work,” she said.

Gates said the results of the three meetings will be presented to town government officials. Ultimately, the essence of what people want will be incorporated into a land use master plan language and into the myriad of rules and regulations in the town’s development code.

It will be a prime example of how residents shape their government from the bottom up.

“This translates codes and zoning into hopes, worries and aspirations,” Gates said.

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