Candidates talk growth in Basalt |

Candidates talk growth in Basalt

Scott CondonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

BASALT Basalt residents can rest assured that none of the candidates for three open Town Council seats are lobbying for rampant, unfettered growth. That was apparent from a forum sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.The five council candidates in attendance plus incumbent Mayor Leroy Duroux, who is running unopposed all laid out convincing cases about their concerns and hopes for the community. They all essentially said they want Basalt to remain a cool small town where you dont have to be a millionaire to afford a place to live.The differences in their approaches spilled out from the verbiage every now and then, although the format of the chambers forum made it difficult to make many direct comparisons of candidates views. Only two questions were posed to all candidates; the other dozen or so questions were posed to only two random candidates. The forum resembled a Twister contest more than a cohesive debate. There was no opportunity for an audience of about 40 people to ask questions.The election is April 1.Following are highlights gleaned from the comments made by council candidates Katie Schwoerer, Peter McBride, Jacque Whitsitt, Garret Brandt and Rick Stevens. A sixth candidate for the three seats, Brian Dillard, had a previous engagement and couldnt attend.

Katie Schwoerer Schwoerer took several opportunities to voice her concerns about Basalts growth, which town officials have pegged at nearly 5 percent annually.Presently there are enough approved applications to maintain the 4.8 average growth rate for another 10 years, said Schwoerer. She noted that the towns 2007 land-use master plan calculated there are 600 residential units and 625,000 square feet of commercial space that is approved but unbuilt in Basalt.I believe it would be beneficial for Basalt to have a comprehensive study to determine the towns carrying capacity, she said. Specifically, she wants the study to determine how increased traffic will affect air quality and mental health when we sit in non-stop traffic.Schwoerer advocated the need for town officials to stick to an urban growth boundary that defines where growth can occur. She wants to preserve the remaining rural buffer around Basalt, but believes there are enough opportunities to provide affordable housing within the current town boundary.She was evasive when asked if she would support the town governments proposal to increase a property tax to purchase the Pan & Fork Mobile Home Park. She touted benefits of the proposal while sympathizing with concerns about taxes. Peter McBride McBride said he sees Basalt at a crossroads. Decisions made in the next four years will shape its direction for possibly the next 50 years, he said. As a photographer and writer for National Geographic magazine, he said he has traveled the world and seen many towns squander their assets due to a lack of foresight. He doesnt want Basalt to follow that path.Will we protect our open space? Will we push for better affordable housing that enable young families and new businesses to establish roots? Will we continue to improve our school system? he asked. McBride, who was raised on a cattle ranch in Pitkin County, said he has witnessed Basalts rapid growth and is concerned. On the other hand, he doesnt want to strangle growth to the degree where all locals of modest means are priced out of town.He said he believes there are opportunities to provide affordable housing within the existing growth boundary. He wants to explore every opportunity before even considering an expansion of the town boundaries. Jacque Whitsitt Whitsitt, a former Basalt councilwoman who left office four years ago because of term limits, said she wants back in local government because it is time to promote a valleywide study of how much growth can be accommodated.Whitsitt said that growth issues are so inter-related from Aspen to Garfield County that a collaborative approach is necessary to determine the carrying capacity. Basalt cannot act only on its issues.She said the urban growth boundary needs to be solid, but she criticized the current council for decisions it made while drawing that boundary. Land near Basalt High School should have been included in the boundary instead of excluded, Whitsitt said.And she was critical of the towns decision to include Ace Lanes property near El Jebel into the Basalt urban growth boundary. The town deemed that land appropriate for more than 400 residences as well as commercial space. Whitsitt said Lanes property is more appropriate for low-density development. Garret Brandt Brandt said Basalts great attributes make it attractive to many people. With that pressure of growth, how we handle that in the next four, eight and 20 years is going to be critical to maintaining a decent lifestyle, he said. What we put in place in the next few years as far as livability, open space, trails and parks is going to dictate whether or not its livable in 20 years.Garret said there will be growth whether we want it or not because of property rights. The key for him is getting the best amenities possible when that development gets reviewed.Brandt, who made an unsuccessful bid for council two years ago, differentiated himself from Whitsitt, McBride and Schwoerer by advocating more flexibility with the urban growth boundary, particularly five or 10 years from now. He wants the council to have all possible tools to make decisions beneficial to the town.Brandt said he cannot support the town governments proposal to buy the Pan & Fork Mobile Home Park, an issue that voters will decide on April 1. He said he supports the concept of the proposal to remove the 37 families there from the flood plain. But he said the town has no exit strategy for achieving that goal.The towns intent is to relocate the families to replacement housing that will be built, theoretically, throughout town in the next decade or so. Brandt said that isnt a solid enough plan. Rick Stevens Stevens, who was elected to two terms as mayor but was forced out in 2004 by term limits, said he believes he helped set the town on a solid course while in office. Only tweaking is needed every now and then, he said.He stressed in his opening statement that there is a difference between growth and development. He thinks of development as a kind of nurturing that results in benefits.Were not here to grow for growths sake, Stevens said. Were here to develop in a reasonable way.Basalt needs more affordable housing as part of its development, he said. He is concerned that the kids growing up in Basalt arent able to find affordable housing if they want to return after getting an education.He is interested in large-scale solutions rather than relying on gradual additions of an affordable housing unit here and there. If youre not going to do it in a big way, dont bother, Stevens said.While he supported the concept of favoring development proposals that are located closest to the core of town, he indicated some flexibility is needed with the urban growth boundary to capitalize on advantageous proposals. Some opportunities have already slipped away, said Stevens.The former mayor also spoke up for people feeling the strain of property taxes. There are between seven and 10 special taxing districts that rely on property taxes, and new proposals for funding pop up all the time, he noted.When you add it all together, it becomes a burden, Sevens said. Planning among those taxing districts must be done holistically so that the burden is eased, he said.Basalt voters can review the candidates performances themselves. Access Roaring Fork, cable channel 17, will show the forum at 6 p.m. each day starting Friday. In addition, a second airing will be offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 9 a.m. before the April 1


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