Divided Basalt council closes door on more urban sprawl
BASALT ” A divided Basalt Town Council decided after intense debate Tuesday night that it won’t allow any more urban sprawl ” even to solve one of the most pressing problems facing the community.
The council voted 4-2 to pass a resolution to stick to a tight urban growth boundary with no exceptions. That essentially outweighed an earlier vote by the town’s planning and zoning commission to allow flexibility in the urban growth boundary if it allowed the town to relocate residents of two trailer parks at risk of catastrophic flooding.
The debate flared when the council considered whether to adopt a land-use master plan the planning commission approved in August. The commission wanted to retain flexibility to give the town a tool to provide replacement housing for the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park and the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park. More than 100 families live in the trailer parks, which town studies show are imperiled by potential flooding.
Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park owner David Fiore wants to build replacement housing for his tenants on land he owns near Basalt High School. However, the site is outside the town’s urban growth boundary.
The planning commission said in the master plan that the town should stay flexible so it can work with Fiore. But the council majority claimed last night that the town has the tools to provide replacement housing without sprawling out to the site by the high school.
The council’s discussion of that one issue evolved into a broad debate about whether Basalt is doomed to become a ghost town with a core dominated by second-home owners or a vibrant small town where people of all socioeconomic classes live and mingle.
Council members Glenn Rappaport, Amy Capron and Chris Seldin insisted that the town stick to the tight urban growth boundary and find replacement housing among the numerous projects developers have proposed. The new master plan has a provision that any project seeking annexation into the town must provide 50 percent affordable housing as well as 10 percent replacement housing for residents of the trailer parks.
That provision gives the town leverage in dealing with developers and the opportunity to provide the replacement housing, Seldin said. Developers know the free-market components of their projects have a better chance at earning approval if they up the ante for affordable and replacement housing.
“You can’t come to these negotiations with your hands behind your back,” he said.
Rappaport said the U.S. has solved its land-use dilemmas disingenuously for the past 60 years by sprawling out into farms and ranchland. He opposed building replacement housing by the high school because the site will require residents to drive for services such as mass transit and grocery stores. That site is too far for residents to walk anywhere for urban services, he said.
Rappaport said his biggest concern is? “hollowing out” Basalt and building all the affordable housing in the periphery while allowing second homes to dominate the core, much like Aspen has done. Allowing that to happen, he insisted, will turn Basalt into a “petting zoo” or “movie set” that looks like a small town but doesn’t really function like one.
Mayor Leroy Duroux and Councilwoman Laurie Dows argued that the town needs every tool at its disposal to try to provide replacement housing for the families in the trailer parks. Replacement housing has been a top priority for the town government for at least eight years, Duroux said, but officials always allow some excuse to prevent taking action.
“I don’t know what the answer is, but I sure don’t want to close any doors,” Duroux said.
Dows claims that the town could provide replacement housing within the urban growth boundary was merely paying “lip service” to solving the problem. She wants flexibility in the urban growth boundary, she said, because she views the threat to the trail park residents as imminent.
Councilman Gary Tennenbaum was the swing vote because Councilman Mark Kittle couldn’t attend the meeting. Tennenbaum also initially argued for flexibility for the construction of replacement housing. Tennenbaum has been a steadfast supporter of a tight urban growth boundary, and he said he would make an exception only for replacement units for the trailer park residents. He said the town needs to take every opportunity to build affordable housing because of the pressures it faces for high-end development.
“It’s turning into a place that’s totally different. I worry about that,” he said.
Tennenbaum ultimately voted with the majority with the caveat that they require replacement housing among the multiple development projects waiting for review.
The debate over the plight of the trailer park residents overshadowed approval of a land-use master plan that town officials have worked on for more than two years The document outlines strategies for everything from economic development to parks and trails.
Council members unanimously agreed it is a good blueprint for the future. The majority of the board said the next step for Basalt is a growth-management quota system ” which allows only a certain amount of development each year.
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RFTA has a bit of a paradox on its hands. The public bus agency doesn’t anticipate it will haul as many passengers this winter but it needs more buses and drivers than ever. Only 15 people are allowed per bus, so that saps resources.