Basalt’s opposition to plan under scrutiny

Scott Condon

Five years after Basalt approved one of the largest projects in the history of the midvalley, it is aggressively opposing another large development proposal.Basalt officials said they don’t see an inconsistency in their approval of Willits in 2002 and their stance against Ace Lane’s Tavaci project, which is under review by Eagle County.”I think it’s pretty simple – urban development belongs in a town, regardless of what happened in the past,” said Basalt Town Manager Bill Efting.Basalt approved roughly 500,000 square feet of space for retail shops, restaurants, offices and residences in the Willits Town Center, as well as 550 single family homes, townhouses and condominiums in the surrounding residential neighborhoods.Tavaci is less than half the size of Willits. Lane seeks approval to build up to 93,000 square feet of commercial space and 243 residences of mixed types.Tavaci is across Highway 82 from Willits. While the sites are less than one mile apart in an area informally considered El Jebel, they are in different jurisdictions. Willits is in Basalt; Tavaci is in Eagle County.The Basalt Town Council asked the Eagle County commissioners and the Roaring Fork Regional Planning Commission to refuse to review the project, and to direct Lane to apply for annexation of his land into Basalt. So far, the Eagle County officials haven’t acted on the requests.Some observers question what gives Basalt the authority to weigh in on the project, given its mixed record on land-use issues.Former Basalt Councilwoman Anne Freedman said the town had no choice but to approve Willits, based on promises town officials made before her election to the council.”It’s true that Basalt did that,” Freedman said of the Willits approval, “but that doesn’t mean we have to compound what might have been mistakes in the past.” She is taking an active role in opposing Tavaci.Basalt Councilman Gary Tennenbaum, who took office earlier this year, believes the town has earned credibility on land-use issues based on what it has accomplished in recent years.”Basalt has drafted a master plan for the town and the three mile plan around the town and is following those master plans,” he wrote in an e-mail interview. “This development does not fit into either of those plans and we are protecting the citizens of Basalt from development that will take advantage of service provided by the town and not pay its own way.”Both Efting and Tennenbaum objected that residents of Lane’s project would use town services, ranging from police patrols to parks, without contributing tax dollars.”Large subdivision and mixed-use commercial fit into a town and not a rural county,” Tennenbaum said. “Eagle County would have to provide all the services normally provided by a town. Basalt is in a better position to provide those services than Eagle County.”Lane complimented the way Basalt has evolved in recent years, and he said “I understand people saying they want to see us go through Basalt.” He said he investigated applying to the town for a review of the project before he submitted an application to Eagle County.At first Basalt officials seemed receptive, he said, but they later informed him that they couldn’t review his project until their master plan update was complete. Lane claimed Basalt officials urged him to apply for approval from Eagle County.”I don’t think I’m trying to be tricky here,” he said.Now that he is in Eagle County’s process, he wants Basalt officials to remain neutral and to allow county officials to complete their review. The Roaring Fork Regional Planning Commission is scheduled to resume review of Tavaci with a site visit Sept. 21, and more debate Oct. 5.Efting acknowledged that Lane’s project would have to “get in line” in Basalt. The town is reviewing three major projects, including the Roaring Fork Club’s expansion, which has been in the process for 2 1/2 years.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is