Basalt sewer-tap freeze flushes building plans
Basalt Sanitation District officials were verbally thrashed Thursday night for promising more sewer service than they really could provide.
A handful of people with approvals for new homes or businesses in Basalt vented frustrations with a moratorium on new sewer service which they say could flush their plans to build any time soon.
“I may go bankrupt. I may have to move out of the valley, but I won’t go without a big-time fight,” vowed Basalt landowner Mike Gundrum.
He said he is scheduled to close soon on the purchase of a home in Basalt from a builder. In a separate but related deal, the builder is buying Gundrum’s undeveloped lot on Basalt Ridge to build a spec house.
However, since the Basalt Sanitation District isn’t selling new taps, Gundrum expects the builder to bail from the deal to buy the lot. That will leave Gundrum, his wife and their infant in a financial situation that could lead to foreclosure, he said.
He wasn’t the only person holding building approvals who is upset with the sanitation district’s moratorium. Ruth Frey said she was preparing to build a home in a Basalt subdivision approved years ago, when she found she couldn’t get a building permit due to the sewer tap moratorium.
“If this is delayed more than a month, it’s going to present a financial hardship,” Frey said.
The moratorium has also affected business plans. Heather and Stefan Isberian, who have operated the Isberian Rug Co. in Aspen for 31 years, have approvals to develop a business lot in Basalt. They planned to open a service-oriented business and rent out part of their developed lot.
They earned Basalt government approvals at least three years ago and recently secured a Small Business Administration loan, but now are being held up because they cannot buy a sewer tap.
Stefan Isberian said people who have building approvals shouldn’t be affected by the moratorium.
To get development approval, landowners supply documentation from the sanitation district that it can serve a specific property. Observers have said that promise for service shouldn’t be made if the district isn’t entirely sure it can deliver.
The Basalt Sanitation District declared its freeze on tap sales in December, several months after its proposed treatment plant expansion got held up in the government review process. The sanitation district’s board of directors found that the number of taps sold would put the existing plant near full capacity, so the moratorium was put in place for an undetermined length of time.
Gundrum and others have questioned the procedure that led to the moratorium. The board passed a motion at its Dec. 9 meeting. As word of the impending freeze spread, builders scrambled to secure the remaining taps.
“People panicked and there was a rush on the bank,” said Ed Simonson, the sanitation district’s attorney.
Normally, 65 sewer taps are sold in an average year, Simonson said. The district had 55 taps available for sale in November, but the rush claimed most of them.
Gundrum said he suspects that people with inside information were given a chance to buy the taps before the general public. Gundrum said he asked the district to provide the names of the people who bought the last several sewer taps, but his request was denied.
At the request of The Aspen Times and Roaring Fork Sunday, the district is researching whether it can release the names of purchasers without breaching confidentiality.
Sanitation district president Clay Crossland, himself one of the main developers in Basalt, said he sympathized with prospective home and business builders caught by the moratorium.
“I’ve got to tell you, it’s with a heavy heart that I’m standing here and facing you,” he told Gundrum, Frey and the Isberians at a meeting Thursday.
But he said the situation wasn’t entirely of the district’s making. Crossland noted that the district’s plant expansion proposal was submitted to Eagle County more than one year ago. “I think the board has acted very responsibly in assuring capacity,” he said.
What wasn’t anticipated, he said, was the length of the review process. Eagle and Pitkin counties, the town of Basalt as well as the state government have pressed the Basalt Sanitation District to extend its service to Lazy Glen Mobile Home Park, 2 miles east of Basalt.
The approval is still in doubt. The Roaring Fork Regional Planning Commission drafted a recommendation for denial Thursday night. That advice will be forwarded for review by the Eagle County commissioners later this month.
Crossland said the plant expansion – which would allow the district to serve people like the Gundrums, Isberians and Freys – has been “held hostage” because of Lazy Glen service. The district board insists it won’t force its existing customers to subsidize the extension service to Lazy Glen.
In the meantime, Crossland told the people caught by the district’s moratorium to attend the sanitation district board’s next meeting on Jan. 20 so their hardships can be addressed.
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