Basalt staff gives the OK to Willits |

Basalt staff gives the OK to Willits

Scott CondonAspen, CO Colorado

BASALT A proposal by the developers of the Willits Town Center to add 100 residents to their high-density village has earned conditional approval from the Basalt planning staff.Willits founder Michael Lipkin and his Chicago-based partner, Joseph Freed and Associates, applied for 85,0000 square feet of additional residential space to offset the cost of luring a Whole Foods supermarket to the project. The natural foods grocer is expected to open a 44,000-square-foot market in 2009 or early 2010.The proposal is scheduled for a vote by the town planning commission Tuesday, then it will advance to the Town Council. The planning staff’s recommendation is hardly a carte blanche approval – 14 pages of conditions are tied to the approval, according to a memo.The conditions cover everything from costly road improvements to accommodate a barrage of new traffic to requirements that 21 fully deed-restricted affordable housing units be sold rather than rented. The developers also plan to build 19 resident-occupied affordable housing units, which place fewer restrictions on buyers. Basalt staff also recommended that the developers be required to sell subsidized parking spaces to the original buyers of the deed-restricted affordable housing. If the condition survives the review process, the developers must offer the buyers of the 21 deed-restricted units a parking space for one-half the price to construct them or $15,000, whichever is less.Lipkin already has approvals for about 500,000 square feet of commercial and residential space in the Willits Town Center. He and his partner claim the additional residential space is needed to offset the infrastructure needed to accommodate Whole Foods. They are building an underground parking garage for residents so that surface parking can be reserved for shoppers.Critics contend escalating property values have worked to the developers’ benefit and should allow them to cover their added infrastructure costs. Critics also have questioned if the developers are giving Whole Foods space at drastically reduced rent, forcing the developers to beef up the density and impact to the community.So far the town government hasn’t required the developers to produce a fiscal analysis that details why the 100 new residences are needed to make the project viable.Residents of the neighborhoods surrounding Willits Town Center objected two weeks ago to any increase in density unless traffic concerns are addressed. The town planning staff memo would require the developers to build a roundabout at the intersection of Willits Lane and East Valley Road – where traffic going to City Market and Willits converge. The roundabout would have major implications for traffic flow at the Sopris Village subdivision in unincorporated Eagle County, the staff memo suggested. Neither Eagle County nor the Sopris Village Homeowners Association have been contacted about the roundabout, documents said.The developers have taken several steps to sweeten the pot for the town. The town code require requires 16 affordable housing units if 60 free-market units are built. Lipkin is offering 40 units. He also proposed extending a real estate transfer assessment – a voluntary tax – that would raise millions of dollar for neighborhood projects over the next two decades.The Willits residences will be considered at a public hearing that begins at 7 p.m. in Basalt Town Hall.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is