Catholic housing branch stuck in Basalt purgatory

Scott Condon

An arm of the Catholic Church that builds affordable housing says it will not abandon plans to build in Basalt despite five years of snafus.”We have no intention of pulling our project. We’re patient,” Mary Boland, executive director of Archdiocesan Housing Inc., said in a recent interview.Archdiocesan Housing received $2 million from the estate of Fritz and Fabi Benedict in the late 1990s. The Benedicts left land to the archdiocese and others with the stipulation that the land or proceeds from its sale be used to build affordable housing in the Roaring Fork Valley. The nonprofit, which is a division of Catholic Charities, already has low-income housing projects in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, so it set its sights on Basalt.Its original plan to collaborate with private developers on a project called Stotts Mill fell through when approval by the Basalt Town Council looked unlikely five years ago. The project, proposed on the south side of Highway 82 in Basalt, faced significant opposition from neighbors.Basalt officials at the time urged the Catholic housing branch to find an alternative site in town. Boland said that is easier said than done. “There aren’t a lot of opportunities to develop [affordable housing projects] in the Roaring Fork Valley,” she said.When the archdiocese found another partner, it landed in another political battle. Last year it entered an agreement with Western Peak Development to purchase four acres of land within the firm’s Sopris Chase project, just downvalley from Basalt High School.Archdiocesan Housing wants to use its gift from the Benedicts – which has grown to $2.4 million – as seed money to build 60 low-income rental housing units. It would target essential community workers like teachers, firefighters and police officers and also provide replacement housing for some of the 90 families who live in two trailer parks in Basalt that face flood risks.Western Peak wants to build and sell another 55 units of affordable housing at the site, managing partner David Fiore said.But Fiore withdrew the plan late last year when it became clear the council majority wouldn’t approve it. The site is outside the town’s urban growth boundary – the area deemed appropriate for growth.In a Feb. 13 meeting to determine if that boundary should be expanded, Archdiocesan Housing appealed to the council to make the adjustments to allow their project to proceed.”We recognize growth is a difficult issue for those of you elected to represent the community,” said a statement from the Catholic housing arm. “However, there are competing interests in this debate, i.e. whether there will be opportunity for those who serve the community in various public and service occupations to live where they work, or whether they will continue to be forced to commute long distances because they are financially unable to afford housing in Basalt.”Basalt officials haven’t decided yet whether the urban growth boundary will be revised.Boland said Archdiocesan Housing will wait and see how the review of Sopris Chase goes before reconsidering plans to build housing in the valley.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is