Drive-through coffee shop survives Basalt scrutiny
BASALT – A proposed drive-through coffee shop at Willits Town Center survived second thoughts by some Basalt Town Council members and stiff opposition from some residents to win final approval Tuesday night.
Three former members of the council urged the current council in person and by email to reject the concept. Former Councilwoman and Willits resident Katie Schwoerer said a coffee shop designed to pull commuters off Highway 82 and into the development while staying in their vehicles goes against the town’s planning concepts.
“This is not in line with Basalt’s small-town character,” she said.
Willits Town Center’s intention to be pedestrian-friendly is already being challenged without such an auto-oriented use, Schwoerer said. She urged the council to show that Basalt is a more progressive town and deny what she labeled “kind of an archaic practice.”
“It is already a challenge for me to ride my bike across the street,” she said. In addition, vehicles using a drive-up coffee window likely will violate the town’s two-minute limit on idling, she said.
Former Councilmen Chris Lane and Pete McBride wrote emails to the council urging denial of the drive-through aspect of the coffee shop, as did Gerry Terwilliger, a member of the town’s environmental Green Team and promoter of the two-minute-idling ordinance.
Tim Belinski, leasing agent for the commercial space at Willits Town Center, countered that approving the proposal would keep the “momentum” going at the development. Whole Foods Market opened last month, attracting the shoppers needed to make the commercial core successful.
Numerous vacant spaces remain in the development, Belinski noted. He suggested the town isn’t in position to turn prospective tenants away.
“We don’t have another Whole Foods coming,” Belinski said. “We’ve got to keep it going and keep the vibrancy going.”
The project is creating jobs and generating sales tax revenues for Basalt, Belinski added. Construction will start this month on the coffee shop building with the council’s blessing, he said.
The Willits Town Center developers have approval for a 9,500-square-foot building. The only aspect subject to further Town Council review was the drive-through window for a coffee shop, widely believed to be a Starbucks. In an earlier meeting, Belinski said the coffee shop would have about 1,800 square feet of interior space, so it won’t be strictly drive-through. A hamburger joint is among the other possible uses of the building.
The council voted 5-2 two weeks ago to approve the first of two readings necessary to approve the drive-through coffee shop. The vote narrowed to 4-3 Tuesday night, with Rob Leavitt changing his vote. Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and Councilwoman Anne Freedman were also opposed.
Council members Glenn Rappaport, Herschel Ross, Rick Stevens and Karin Teague supported the proposal.
Teague said she was “quite torn” on the proposal and wished the opponents would have made their opinions known earlier. Ultimately, she concluded that the shop will generate traffic but at an amount that can be absorbed.
“I don’t think the drive-through is going to be the destruction of Basalt as we know it,” Teague said.
The Willits commercial area and residential area have experienced traffic woes. Schwoerer reminded the board that the town government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on traffic-calming devices on East Valley Road to respond to residents’ complaints about speeding drivers. This week, the town is enhancing crosswalks in the commercial core to deal with the increase in traffic since Whole Foods Market opened.
“We just have to continue to make it safer for people,” Rappaport said.
Whitsitt argued that the poor economy has skewed the way the town government looks at projects. Five years ago, the drive-through aspect of the coffee shop wouldn’t have been approved, she claimed. Prior surveys of town residents have shown that preservation of small-town character is their top priority.
“This does not fit small-town character,” Whitsitt said. She said the coffee-shop building otherwise is a great addition for the town.
“I wish this car thing wasn’t involved. It would be a no-brainer,” Whitsitt said.
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