Candidates say Basalt’s character can last through economic growth
Preserving small-town character and nurturing a sustainable economy are two themes that have emerged in Basalt’s town council race this year.The tricky part might be melding the two ideas.Can Basalt evolve into something more than a bedroom community for Aspen, in an economic sense, without snuffing its charm? The five candidates in the race claim it’s possible, although they favor different strategies.”Preserving Basalt’s small-town character is critical to its economy,” candidate Chris Seldin claimed.He said the town is slowly but surely attracting a wide variety of business, from Internet-based firms to light industry. It’s also got a world-class collection of architects. If it maintains the qualities that make it special, the economic growth will continue to evolve, he said.He is against the council “inserting itself in the marketplace.””I don’t see a need for the government to create opportunities. I see the opportunities coming to us,” Seldin said. “Economic conditions are extremely favorable to diversifying and improving our economy.”Candidate Joe Zuena said his vision of creating economic sustainability centers on providing incentives to get small businesses to locate in town and stay. The town government is kicking around ideas, for example, to try to keep commercial rents affordable, although no concrete plan has advanced, he said.Zuena said Basalt can accommodate commercial growth in a way that is consistent with small-town character. For example, he would like to see greater competition in the grocery business, but that doesn’t necessary mean a big-box, chain supermarket with “43 lanes of checkout.” It could mean a more humble, local-owned store.Zuena pointed to the Willits Town Center project as a model for expanding commercial areas in a way consistent with small-town character. The town government approved about 500,000 square feet of shops, restaurants, office space and residences, but it is divided into several buildings rather than a few big-box-style complexes.In contrast, candidate Gary Tennenbaum said he is “concerned” about the development at Willits. He said he doesn’t know yet if the overall project will enhance Basalt’s small-town atmosphere.Small businesses are the town’s economic engine, Tennenbaum said, and commercial projects should be approved in a way that dovetails with small town character.As a councilman, he would work with developers to make sure their projects “fit.” The town’s master plan helps guide what type of development is allowed in what locations, he noted.It’s not an option to say no more growth, Tennenbaum said. There are private property rights and the town has a master plan that guides growth.”Development is totally inevitable,” he said. Candidate Garret Brandt discounted the notion that long-term economic sustainability requires growth. He said the town council can help establish a climate that’s favorable to small businesses without making the town larger.That can be accomplished in ways like keeping taxes low and supporting the Basalt Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to keep shopping dollars in town, he said.”It’s sort of encouraging and breeding an atmosphere that’s supportive of the business community,” he said.Brandt also said he supports minimizing “government interference.” He doesn’t want too many onerous mitigation requirements on commercial proposals that fit with the town’s small-town character. Those conditions often kill proposals, he said.He also suggested keeping taxes to a minimum so that Basalt businesses have the best advantage possible. He said he is wary of a 1 percent sales tax increase the Basalt Town Council has considered. He could only support it, he said, if the revenues go to well-defined projects like construction of trails and the purchase of open space.Candidate Amy Capron said approving small commercial projects that create more jobs in town and require fewer people to commute could enhance economic sustainability and preserve small-town character.The council must “look at what types of businesses are coming. Do they fit in?” she said.She said she wouldn’t support big-boxes. Capron also favor businesses that cater to full-time residents rather than second-home owners, although she didn’t define how that type of regulation would be possible.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.
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