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Candidate forum provides insights to views on growth

Gary Tennenbaum
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Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series that looks at Basalt Town Council candidates’ positions on growth-related issues. Today’s story looks at their general philosophies. Saturday’s will examine their views on big-box retailers in Basalt and how the town can be economically sustainable.Five candidates for three Basalt Town Council seats fell into two distinct camps on the growth-and-development questions that dominated a debate Thursday night.One camp pledged to take a tough stance designed to retain small-town character and preserve rural, open spaces around the perimeter. The themes of candidates Amy Capron, Chris Seldin and Gary Tennenbaum centered on those values.

The other camp vowed to take a tough stance on growth, with the goal of getting the most benefits for the community. Candidates Garret Brandt and Joe Zuena espoused those views.Seldin, the assistant Pitkin County attorney, most frequently rang the warning bell about the potential for growth to spoil Basalt. He said he grew up in Durango, a town so changed by development in recent years that he doesn’t even recognize it.

“I don’t want to see that happen to Basalt,” Seldin said.Enough development already has approvals in town to carry on the current rate of growth for five years, even if nothing else is added, he said. Seldin said his top priority is “how do we keep Basalt special?”

Tennenbaum works as a land steward for the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board, a job that attracted him to the valley. So, establishing trail connections between various parts of town was one of his top priorities, along with maintaining the open spaces that surround parts of town. He pointed to Pitkin County, Basalt and the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s purchase of open space in Emma as an important victory in maintaining open lands and a model for what can be accomplished.Tennenbaum said maintaining small-town character is important to him. To achieve that, the town must work with residents to define that character. That will dictate how the town should grow, he said.Capron, a landscape architect, said dealing with growth and preserving the “green buffers” around town are her top priorities. Her strategy on dealing with those issues would follow the town’s master plan closely. The document, created through a heavy dose of public involvement, is the blueprint for how the community should grow, she said.

While Brandt and Zuena weren’t necessarily in the same camp as the other three candidates, they were far from proponents of growth.Brandt said development is the town’s No. 1 issue, and he noted that he knows what issues to tune into as an attorney who concentrates on land-use issues. Brandt said he wants to make sure Basalt continues to add great parks, dining and shopping as it continues to grow.

He said proposals that request annexation into the town warrant extra scrutiny. When a development requires extension of community services, it needs to provide community benefits, Brandt said. The automatic question for developers seeking annexation should be, “Is that the best you can give us?” he said.While Brandt acknowledged many town residents like the current pace of growth and the direction the town is going, he said he is against setting a definitive annual rate on growth for fear it could preclude consideration of good proposals.

In an atmosphere dominated by slow-growth sentiments, Zuena didn’t shy away from offering a slightly different view. He noted that landowners have a right to propose development on their property, and that right should stand even if residents are concerned about the pace of growth.The catch, Zuena said, is making developers offset effects on the community and pay their way. He also stressed that residents invested considerable time into the town master plan, so leaders should follow its well-reasoned design on development.

Zuena, who owns a property management firm, noted that he wouldn’t oppose adding three stories on buildings to meet community goals like providing affordable housing. “I’m always in favor of going up,” he said.Thursday night’s debate attracted only about 25 audience members, many in town government and from the media. But residents will have plenty of opportunities to catch the lively forum on the public access television station. Access Roaring Fork, channel 17 in the midvalley, will air the debate every day from Sunday through election day on April 4. It will show at noon and 6 p.m. each day.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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