Council wants concessions from downtown Basalt project |

Council wants concessions from downtown Basalt project

Board wants to work out more details before potential vote on Nov. 9

The empty former Clark's Market in Basalt. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The Basalt Town Council wrestled some concessions from the developers of a major project proposed downtown but — at the urging of the public — they are going to seek more.

The council voted 6-0 Tuesday night to table a critical first vote on the Basalt Center Circle project until at least Nov. 9.

“This is downtown. We need to get it right,” Councilman Ryan Slack said.

Developers Tim Belinski and Andrew Light proposed 67 apartments, including 17 rent-controlled units, and a 9,000-square-foot grocery store and food hall. The developers revised their plan last month — reducing the overall number of units while increasing the affordable housing, removing a floor on the building and altering the architecture.

The site is the building at the entrance to downtown, where Clark’s Market was once located and City Market before that. The main space in the building has been vacant since 2014, creating what Mayor Bill Kane called a “black hole” in downtown.

Despite the revisions, the project still faced opposition from the majority of speakers during public comment Tuesday night.

Virginia Leffler, a consistent critic of the project, said while the developers removed one floor, they actually only reduced the height by four feet over most of the building.

“A lot of people think this building is still too tall,” she said.

Andrea Morales agreed. She said the proposed building looks like a portion of Willits got plopped downtown.

Morales said the proposed building is out of character with downtown Basalt. Approving it, she warned, would set a bad precedent when other buildings get redeveloped.

She also questioned what the public gains from the development. “Who is supposed to benefit and how is it going to improve the community?” Morales asked.

Dave Hotchkin, a Basalt resident who said he has undertaken “lots” of development elsewhere, including historic areas, said the revisions to the project don’t go far enough.

“They call this a historic look. It’s really not. It’s more mountain modern,” Hotchkin said.

This rendering shows one view of the proposed building with a 9,000-square-foot grocery and 67 apartments in downtown Basalt.
Courtesy image

He urged the council to require the developers to remove an entire floor and place the parking underground.

Former Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens was one of a handful of people who spoke in favor of the project. The well-documented, recent migration to the mountains from urban areas has triggered a backlash in towns such as Basalt, he noted. But making the refinements sought by some members of the public will just make the project that is expensive and out of reach for local residents, he warned.

During the council discussion, Kane was the biggest proponent of the Basalt Center Circle proposal. He said he intends to vote for it and wanted to explain why.

He said numerous Basalt residents participated in the 2020 master plan update — a blueprint to the type and location of development that Basalt wants. The old Clark’s site was identified for high residential density.

“This application is completely consistent with our comp plan,” Kane said.

In addition, the apartments would be located within 150 feet of a major bus stop, making it a poster child for transit-oriented development. He said even the free-market apartments would be ideal for young professionals in two-income households or those with roommates.

The project will create foot traffic that will make retail and restaurant more sustainable in downtown Basalt, Kane said.

But he expressed reservations as well. The developers want to delay opening the grocery and food hall for nine months after the apartments are completed. Kane said the grocery must be ready concurrently. Otherwise, he sees a scenario of potential endless delays for the retail component.

Kane and nearly every other council member voiced concerns about the developers’ commitment that 60% of the free-market units would be rented for a minimum of six months. Slack pressed the point. He said the other 40% of free-market units could be snatched up for 31 days in the current real estate market. Basalt currently prohibits residential rentals for fewer than 30 days.

Slack said he wanted to see no less than 90% and preferably 100% of the units rented for six months or longer.

As other council members pressed the point, Belinski pledged, “It’s an easy ask.” Their intent is to rent to people living long-term in Basalt, he said.

The height reduction was a tougher ask. “When you’re looking at it from downtown, that’s the scary part,” said Councilman Gary Tennenbaum.

It was clear from the discussion that concessions must be made on the height to earn the first of two necessary approvals on Nov. 9.

“This is a big deal for the town of Basalt,” Tennenbaum said. “When this changes, it changes a significant portion of downtown Basalt.”

Speaking in general terms, Belinski said the revisions the developers made resulted in a “financial hit.”

“In terms of what we can do here and what we can accomplish, we’re on thin ice here,” Belinski said.

Instead of trying to hash through an agreement after a two-hour hearing, the council decided to continue the public hearing until Nov. 9, when all the discussed changes can be put in black-and-white.

Kane, Slack, Tennenbaum as well as council members Bill Infante, David Knight and Glenn Drummond voted to continue the meeting to Nov. 9. Councilwoman Elyse Hottel recused herself because of work her employer has done with the development team.