Basalt’s future: grow up or out?
December 1, 2006
Basalt officials are trying to figure out if their town should grow up or grow out.The Town Council’s rejection of two development applications in the last three weeks has triggered the philosophical debate.The council majority favors drawing a rigid line around the town and prohibiting growth outside that line – formally known as an urban growth boundary.The majority of the town’s planning commission favors flexibility with that boundary to accommodate projects that provide community benefits.At the heart of the clash is the question of whether residents want to see sprawl at the town’s outskirts or higher density within its core. The choice isn’t easy.”There are two things that all Americans hate – sprawl and density,” Councilman Glenn Rappaport quipped. He said the council needs to find “the political will” to pick a path and stick to it.Council members Chris Seldin, Gary Tennenbaum and Amy Capron, who all won election in April, said they favor strictly adhering to an urban growth boundary and encouraging greater density within that area.”If the voters don’t like that, they’ll kick me out,” Seldin said.He justified a rigid boundary by noting that the number of projects zoning allows and those already approved within the urban growth boundary exceed the town’s targeted growth rate of about 6 percent annually.”We don’t have to approve another thing and we’re right there at our growth rate,” he said.Capron said the urban growth boundary can always be expanded as the town grows. Drawing a rigid boundary doesn’t mean that will remain the boundary forever, she said.Tennenbaum said he wouldn’t favor fourth and fifth stories on buildings within the core, but he supports density “of the right type in the right place.”There’s the catch, according to Basalt planning director Susan Philp. Everybody says they support density, but when a high-density project is proposed, “we choke,” she said. Citizens affected by the high-density development say “we’re killing Basalt” and lobby for denial of projects, according to Philp.She noted the altered proposal for the Riverwalk project at the east end of Midland Avenue, Basalt’s main drag, looked good to council members a few years ago until the official review started and people complained.Planning commission chairman Bill Maron probed to find out if the council would really favor density at crunch time. “I’m skeptical,” he admitted.Rappaport acknowledged the easy answer is to allow sprawl. That’s the typical American development pattern – move out to open lands rather than try to make a project work where there are constraints. But that pattern has created a society dependent on cars, he said.Rappaport favors development where people can walk to essential services and a town where neighborhoods are connected by public streets rather than segregated in gated communities.By sticking to an urban growth boundary, it will force Basalt down a direction of density, he said. “It is a very difficult position for us politically,” he said.It’s one Mayor Leroy Duroux doesn’t favor. He sided with the planning commission to keep the urban growth boundary flexible. He suggested adjusting that boundary so the merits of a project on the fringe of that boundary can be considered.Duroux’s voting record shows he also favors higher density within the core.Councilman Mark Kittle didn’t attend a recent joint hearing between the council and planning commission on the topic. However, in an earlier interview he said the urban growth boundary must be flexible.Kittle and Duroux have been on the short end of two recent votes. The council majority said it would reject the Roaring Fork golf club expansion Nov. 14 because it was on land outside the urban growth boundary. Two weeks later, the council majority said it wouldn’t annex land for a project called Sopris Chase – which included 87 units of affordable housing – because it’s outside the boundary.Councilwoman Laurie Dows indicated she favors following a boundary, but she wants to consider if that area should be expanded. Rappaport said he also favors re-evaluating the boundary.It was clear when the meeting ended the council will encourage density within the town core. Meetings over the next couple of months will determine whether to expand the current urban growth boundary.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.