Developer: ‘Basalt trustee is biased’
The developer of the Riverwalk project in downtown Basalt wants a councilwoman disqualified from voting on the proposal because she wrote a letter to the editor.
Developer Frieda Wallison claimed Councilwoman Ann Freedman has demonstrated she cannot cast a fair, objective vote on the project.
“As the applicant, I’m entitled to a fair hearing,” said Wallison.
Riverwalk has run into fierce opposition from three board members. Freedman has been the most vocal foe of the project’s size.
Wallison wants to build a 71,000-square-foot “mixed use project” that would combine retail shops, restaurants, offices and residences on the vacant land on the east end of Midland Avenue, across from the Catholic Church.
Two other board members have indicated they are undecided about the project. One has expressed support.
The seventh member of the board, Jacque Whitsitt, has disqualified herself from voting on Riverwalk because her husband’s law firm has represented Wallison for several years.
If the vote was 3-3 on Riverwalk, Wallison’s proposal would fail, so every vote is obviously important.
But Wallison insisted her complaint about Freedman is about fairness, not politics.
Freedman wouldn’t say what she thought of Wallison’s effort to get her disqualified.
“I guess I’m being very careful because I don’t want to give her more ammunition,”said Freedman. Letter of controversy At the center of the controversy is a letter Freedman wrote to local newspapers. In a letter published July 3 in The Aspen Times, Freedman wrote that Riverwalk was “too much for our downtown.”
She concluded by saying, “I hope the people of Basalt will recognize that we are at a critical juncture in our town’s history. We can salvage our little piece of the valley for ourselves and those who come after us, or we can lose it forever to the greed of developers who want to get rich on `progress.””
Freedman said Wednesday her letter didn’t express anything different than what she had repeatedly said in public hearings.
Wallison countered that Freedman crossed a line of fairness by going outside the public hearings and advocating opposition to Riverwalk. She was particularly angered at the implication that she is a greedy developer.
“Not only is it untrue, but it’s prejudicial and biased,”said Wallison.
She said she had the choice of “sitting there and saying I’m going to take it” or fighting to “preserve her rights” to a fair hearing. Attorneys get involved “Accordingly, we respectfully request that trustee Freedman be disqualified from continuing to participate in the proceeding to review the application …”
Town Attorney Jody Edwards responded with a letter that said Freedman’s strong opinion on the density of the proposed development didn’t make her incapable of issuing a fair, unbiased decision. He said he would not advise Freedman to disqualify herself.
Gross submitted another letter to the town Tuesday night that repeated objections to Freedman’s participation in the review.
Nevertheless, the board held a hearing on Riverwalk that night, and Freedman participated. Gross’ letter indicated that might be grounds for a legal challenge.
“By continuing to participate in the application process, the application does not waive any rights to pursue remedies in court based on the denial of due process,” Gross wrote on behalf of Wallison.
There will be plenty of time to hash out the issue – if there is any further hashing to be done. An economic analysis of Riverwalk and a study of its effects on Basalt traffic and parking won’t be finished until September.
Meanwhile, Freedman said she wouldn’t write any more letters or discuss the project outside of public hearings. However, she said she will continue to express her opinion at those hearings.
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