Basalt says no to Riverwalk
A slim majority of the Basalt Town Council voted Tuesday night to reject the controversial Riverwalk development proposal.
The council voted 3-2 to deny the application and to assist a citizens’ initiative to try to buy the property on Midland Avenue.
“The density here has terrified me,” said Councilwoman Tracy Bennett, who voted against the proposal. “I fear we’re turning into too many other places. I happen to like the place where I live.”
Developer Frieda Wallison volunteered to cut the project by 10 percent after it became apparent last month that the council majority was leaning against granting her approval. Even with the reduction, Riverwalk would have featured about 66,000 square feet of retail, office and residential space plus roughly 30,000 square feet of underground parking.
The project was proposed on Midland Avenue, across from the Catholic church.
“I have a vision for Midland Avenue, and it doesn’t include a project of this magnitude at the end of it,” said Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens. “I’d like to see us do something different with this property.”
But that’s where Wallison holds the cards. When she bought the property in March 1999, it came with approvals for a 43,463-square-foot project. She proposed a different plan because she didn’t like those existing approvals, which she has labeled as office buildings surrounding a parking lot.
But a disappointed Wallison told the council last night that she would rather build that previously approved project than sell the property for open space.
“I’ve heard the verdict,” said a disappointed Wallison. “We will be submitting an application for a building permit. We will not sell the property.”
An audience of about 40 people was divided about the same as the council. A group called Parents for the Park staged a rally before the meeting to lobby for the effort to buy the Riverwalk land for preservation of open space. About a dozen parents had small children right outside the council chamber’s windows.
In the meeting room, Basalt resident Charlie Cole represented sentiments of Riverwalk foes by claiming approval of the project would set a precedent that tells developers the town is “fair game” for huge, out-of-scale projects. He urged the council to preserve Midland Avenue’s small scale.
“It’s something very special, and we ought to work like hell to preserve it,” Cole said.
Basalt resident Peter Frey expressed sentiments of supporters by noting the project is exactly what’s envisioned in the town master plan – a high-density development in an urban core. It would help create commercial viability in downtown Basalt, he said.
But Councilwoman Anne Freedman said the project would destroy the small-town character. She voted with Bennett and Stevens to reject the application.
Councilmen Jonathan Fox-Rubin and Leroy Duroux voted against the motion to deny the project.
Fox-Rubin argued that the project was “partially compatible” with the town master plan. Mixed-use developments are encouraged downtown, he said.
Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt didn’t vote because of a potential conflict, and one seat on the board is vacant.
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