Developer seeks ear of Basalt council
September 5, 2008
BASALT ” Developers are having a tough time getting an audience with the Basalt Town Council these days.
The owners of the only major development proposal blocked by Basalt’s growth moratorium want a chance to voice an appeal directly to the council but have hit a roadblock at Town Hall.
The town attorney notified the owners of the Green Drake Hotel in July that their request for an exemption from the moratorium wasn’t valid and provided “no basis for further consideration.”
The development team responded with a letter on Aug. 15 asking to make its pitch to the council. The town staff hasn’t responded to that request.
Mike Tierney and his partners in the Green Drake property filed an application earlier this year to redevelop the downtown hotel site. They want to build a mix of residential and commercial uses on the property along Midland Avenue and contend their plan complies with land-use planning goals in the town’s master plan.
The review of the project stalled when the council passed an emergency moratorium in early June on most new development applications. The moratorium ordinance states that any project that didn’t have the first round of approval wouldn’t be processed for the next nine months.
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The Green Drake team filed a formal complaint that said they had worked for months with the planning office to create an application that complies with the town’s land-use master plan. They said the project should be allowed to advance out of fairness.
Town attorney Tom Smith’s reply said there was no legal basis for granting the exemption ” the developers had no vested right because the application wasn’t approved and they provided no proof that the moratorium causes them financial hardship.
Mitch Haas, a land-use planner for the Green Drake partners, and Charles Cunniffe, owner representative, replied with the request to meet with the council. They noted in their letter that the moratorium ordinance says property owners caught in the freeze “may appeal to the Town Council following an administrative action by the Town Planner.”
The council hasn’t been part of the exchange of letters and hasn’t been asked by staff to review the appeal or the town government’s response.
The council approved the moratorium so it could concentrate on reassessing its growth controls and requirements on developers. The council members are consistently meeting with consultants to discuss issues such as house size caps and growth-management processes. Council members also have indicated they want to increase the amount of affordable housing developers must provide as part of their projects.
By coincidence, the moratorium took effect at about the same time that market forces slowed development. Financial challenges have affected at least two major development projects under way in town.
Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt defended the council’s actions. “Building sure didn’t stop because of the moratorium,” she said.
Whitsitt noted that hundreds of residences are already approved but unbuilt in the town. In addition, the town is still reviewing several major projects that already had first-round approval, albeit at a slow pace. The town’s 2007 land-use master plan update says 604 residences are approved but unbuilt or could be constructed as infill without major review.
“There’s stuff out there to sell and build,” Whitsitt said.
Mayor Leroy Duroux voted against the moratorium in June, but he said Thursday it is difficult to say if it has slowed construction activity and development in the town.
“I’m not sure any time is a good time for a moratorium,” Duroux said.
The moratorium has been in place for three months. Indications are the code rewrite won’t be done in six more months.
“I don’t see how it can be because they keeping on adding more stuff,” Duroux said, referring to the other council members.
Whitsitt acknowledged it would take a Herculean effort to be finished in six more months. “I, for one, would be willing to crank up the number of special meetings needed to get this thing done,” she said.