Basalt’s booming, moving out from Aspen’s shadow | AspenTimes.com
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Basalt’s booming, moving out from Aspen’s shadow

Mark Fox/The Aspen Times
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After a few years of economic stagnation resulting from tough new rules on development and the lingering hangover from 9/11, Basalt is booming again.The new year has started with a bang, with four major development projects under government review in the town of nearly 3,000 people.A new 54-unit, 48,000-square-foot condominium-hotel project received approval from the Town Council on Jan. 24. A decision is likely this winter on the proposed expansion of the private Roaring Fork Club golf course and high-end residential project. And now, developers have submitted two applications that could add a combined 242 residences to the town.”The whole real estate market is hot,” Basalt Town Manager Bill Efting said. “Every Realtor that you run into says they’re so busy they can’t stand straight.”As developable land disappears throughout the valley, developers take what opportunities exist. Basalt happens to have some of that last available land in the valley floor, Efting noted, so it’s experiencing the surge in development.Out of Aspen’s shadowBut the town is also moving from Aspen’s shadow, even though it’s only 20 miles away. An axiom of the real estate sales industry used to be that when Aspen and Snowmass Village caught a cold, Basalt and the rest of the midvalley got pneumonia, according to Jim Light, a developer in the valley for about 30 years and a partner in Basalt’s Roaring Fork Club.Now Basalt is a strong enough market these days to attract development on its own right, not only because it’s close to Aspen, he said.”It’s starting to attract second-home owners who a decade ago, or even five years ago, wouldn’t consider that part of the valley,” Light said.

Basalt appeared ripe for a surge. In addition to national economic factors from Sept. 11, 2001, developers were skittish because of tough new regulations the town put in place to offset flood threats. New studies showed the town was much more susceptible to flooding from the Roaring Fork River than previously believed. The town responded by limiting development and increasing mitigation on many properties that could be developed.The market is now hot enough to entice developers to tackle that mitigation.The development surge coincides with a 14 percent growth in sales tax revenues last year. The town collected $2.01 million in sales tax revenues in 2005, compared with $1.77 million in 2004.”We’re making up ground from two or three years ago, when we had to make [staff and project] cuts,” Efting said.The surge also comes at a time when the majority of residents have expressed concerns about preserving Basalt’s small-town character.No ‘Robin Hood’ projectDevelopers of new projects appear savvy about the residents’ caution of losing small-town flavor. They couch their projects in terms of what they can offer the community.BRIKOR Development LLC of Aspen is touting its proposal for up to 109 homes on the south side of town as a traditional neighborhood that mimics grid-style development of Basalt’s core and offers housing for a variety of incomes.BRIKOR owns about 18 acres anchored by an old lumber mill between the Southside subdivision and Basalt High School. It’s one of the largest undeveloped parcels remaining within what Basalt officials have identified as the area appropriate for urban-style growth.A previous development application for the site featured a substantial amount of low-income housing, which sparked opposition from the adjacent neighbors. They feared the proposed housing would trigger everything from traffic congestion to crime.

The new plan decreases the amount of housing and mixes the types more than before, according to project planner Mark Chain. But the developers still want to provide medium-density housing for a variety of income levels, not just a handful of large homes for the wealthy.”This project is not a ‘Robin Hood’ development plan,” the application said. “It is not taking the easy way out by proposing a low-density, high-end project where the dedication and citizen opposition may be minimal.”As proposed, the Stott’s Mill project would add 28 multifamily apartments or townhouses; between 54 and 74 single-family homes of between 2,200 and 2,700 square feet; and seven single-family homes on larger lots.Chain said the developer is targeting the bulk of the homes to people who live and work in the valley. House sizes could vary to try to keep prices affordable, and the developer is considering disincentives to avoid speculation and rapid turnover for profit.Even so, affordability is tough without deed restrictions, and they raise their own problems, Chain said.”Land is expensive there, and exactions are expensive, but they’re going to try their best [to keep prices affordable],” Chain said.The project will also include a 3,000-square-foot “corner store” designed to serve the neighborhood with groceries and other essentials.Opportunity for trailer residents?A quarter-mile away from Stott’s Mill, David Fiore and his partners have submitted an application for the Sopris Chase project on the downvalley side of Basalt High School.Fiore and his partners also own the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park, identified as highly vulnerable to a major flood. They’re touting Sopris Chase as an opportunity to relocate the trailer park residents.

The town government hasn’t deemed the application complete yet, so it could change. As it stands, 60 new apartment units would provide replacement housing for the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park.The developer wants to build 73 single-family homes and condominiums in addition to the replacement housing. One neighborhood of 55 homes would feature midrange and affordable housing. Another 18 higher-end homes of up to 4,500 square feet are proposed for a bench in the hills above the rest of the development.Town planner Susan Philp’s regular report to the Town Council makes it clear the four projects under review are the tip of the iceberg. “Staff continues to field many inquires on potential development and redevelopment,” she concluded in her report.

72 percent of the people participating in Basalt’s 2005 community survey said small-town character is important. But exactly did they mean? Clearly it’s more than the physical size of the town’s boundaries.When asked what Basalt can do to preserve small-town character, about 16 percent of respondents said limit or prohibit growth, while another 8 percent said set future land uses on vacant lands in and around town.A much greater number, 28 percent, said work on building “community” character in ways such as holding fairs, events and festivals; “keep friendly people”; find ways to support youth; and keep people involved in civics in ways like producing a town newsletter.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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