Basalt’s bright-yellow building has some residents seeing red
May 1, 2008
BASALT ” After a long, drab winter many people welcomed the reintroduction of color back into their lives this spring. But a new midvalley development has gone a little overboard for some folks.
The first building in the Willits Bend project was erected in recent weeks, unveiling the first of what will be many bold colors in the design. The building features a bright-yellow metal exterior. It’s got its supporters and detractors, but few people will likely be neutral.
Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux lives on Willits Lane across from the project. He said it is the hot topic among his neighbors.
“They’re kind of waiting for the trees to leaf out so they don’t have to look at it,” Duroux said. “It was a shocker.”
People with objections have taken their complaints to Basalt Town Hall. The mayor and other officials can only tell them to talk to Eagle County. Even though Willits Bend is surrounded by Basalt, the site is an enclave located in unincorporated Eagle County.
The Eagle County commissioners granted approval to the project two years ago. Basalt was a “referral agency” which provided comments on the project as requested by Eagle County.
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Color wasn’t an issue during the informal glance by Basalt officials or the official review by Eagle County.
“The builder went through all the appropriate hoops, at least as far as I can tell, in making it apparent to everyone what the design concept was,” said Eagle County Commissioner Sara Fisher, whose district includes El Jebel and part of Basalt.
But once the first building sprouted from the ground, Eagle County received enough complaints that Fisher and County Commissioner Peter Runyon decided to check it out for themselves while in El Jebel on business in mid-April.
“Quite frankly I thought it looked very attractive,” Fisher said. “I think that it’s certainly a change for the community, there’s no question about it.
“Driving by, it looks attractive. If I lived across the street from it, I might have a different opinion,” Fisher said.
Runyon said color schemes weren’t something the county commissioners reviewed back when Willits Bend was approved. That has changed with an update of its land-use code, he said.
Steve Crowley, the builder of Willits Bend, said he wasn’t trying to grab attention or make a statement with the Tuscan yellow building. He worked with his architect, former Basalt councilman Glenn Rappaport, and Rapport’s wife, designer Kelly Alford, to come up with the colors for the buildings in the project. Next up will be a navy blue building. Future buildings will be shades of green, red and purple.
“I thought it looked fun and lively,” Crowley said. The light industrial neighborhood his project is located in has enough monolithic, drab buildings, so he and his team decided to liven the appearance. “It’s a fun thing to do, and why not?” Crowley asked.
Rappaport, who left office last month after serving for four years, said he has learned to accept that designs and colors of buildings won’t be universally loved.
“Architecture has a funny way of getting to people,” he said. “Everybody’s got their thing.”
As a councilman, he resisted Basalt town government attempts to regulate design.
“People should be allowed to express themselves,” Rappaport said. Choosing one color for the nine buildings in Willits Bend would have been a nightmare, he said, because any one color has its detractors. If they selected battleship gray, for example, people would complain about the drab, industrial look.
Alford works as a graphic designer and owns a stationery business, so “she makes a living picking colors,” Rappaport said. He credited her with the idea of making the buildings different colors.
A by-product of that decision will be easy directions. People trying to find an office or business won’t have to wander around confused, like in the Airport Business Center, for example. They will guided by looking for the yellow, red or blue building.
Willits Bend has been an eye-opener in more ways than one. Crowley’s vision was for a project where craftsmen could find affordable space in the Roaring Fork Valley. As a cabinet maker in the valley for nearly 30 years, he noticed that craftsmen were moving to New Castle, Silt and Rifle to find affordable space.
Willits Bend was approved for 92,500 square feet of light-industrial space. Crowley has the option of mixing in 16 residences. He is selling small spaces of 1,000 square feet each, to offer opportunities to small-business owners. There are limits to how many spaces businesses can buy to try to keep the project diverse.
Crowley needed to keep his costs down to keep his vision alive. So Rappaport was challenged with coming up with an intriguing design on a dime. The primary goal for the design of the site plan was avoiding plopping down industrial buildings “in a sea of parking.” Instead, the buildings are oriented along Widget Street in a traditional downtown fashion.
Next, Rappaport came up with a building design that goes well beyond a metal box. The upper end of the two- and three-story buildings have north-facing “clerestories” that let the light in. To a layman, it creates a ridge that resembles a stegosaurus, the dinosaur with the spiky plates running from its neck to its tail.
Rappaport said the design was influenced by the conversion of old warehouses into lofts. “The buildings are not apologizing for the simplicity of their design,” he said.
Basalt Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt, who also lives near Willits Bend, said the project can’t help but attract attention because it is different from the surrounding character. “It’s really bright and really tall,” she said. “You can’t miss it.”
Usually a project tries to blend with the surrounding neighborhood. Whitsitt acknowledged that might not have been desirable in this case.
She philosophized that Willits Bend will gain acceptance. “Just like the traffic and wind, you get used to it,” she said.