Flying Fish project finally flies with Basalt council
BASALT – It took five years for longtime Aspen contractor John Olson to get approval for a development project in Basalt. He hopes it doesn’t take that long before there is enough demand to build it.
Olson secured final approvals from the Basalt Town Council on Tuesday night for two separate but closely related projects: the Flying Fish and Pokorny developments.
The Flying Fish is at the eastern end of Midland Avenue, across from the barbershop and along Fryingpan Road. Olson’s nine residences and 1,100 square feet of commercial space will replace ramshackle old cabins that used to operate as a lodge and is now low-rent, free-market housing. Two of the new housing units must be deed restricted as resident occupied (RO) without annual appreciation caps.
The Pokorny project consists of 26 residential units in the Southside neighborhood. Of those, 14 units will be deed-restricted affordable housing, and six of them will be designated as replacement housing for the existing units at the Flying Fish property.
The council made a handful of concessions because of the poor economy. A requirement to build two RO units at Pokorny was waived. They will be free-market units. Also, Olson’s limited liability companies were granted vested rights approvals for five years rather than the town’s customary three years. That will give Olson more flexibility on the timing of construction. He stressed that he remains very concerned about the midvalley housing market.
“This thing might not be built for five years. It might sit in a drawer somewhere,” Olson told the council.
The town staff and council also found a technical way to achieve Olson’s goal of not providing a letter of credit until he gets a building permit. The financial security is required to make sure public amenities associated with the project are completed. Olson said it would be a financial hardship to provide those funds before the market improves and he is ready to build.
“I’ve spent every penny I have” on the project, he said.
But the tough economic times – reflected by empty foundations of other stalled projects scattered around town – prompted the town to add a new requirement. Olson must provide a second letter of credit ensuring the construction sites will be reclaimed if work ultimately stalls after it starts. Council members said in prior meetings they don’t want any more scenarios like Willits Town Center, which looks like a construction graveyard. The reclamation security must also be provided when Olson applies for a building permit.
The council approved the Flying Fish and Pokorny projects by a 4-1 vote. Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer dissented after saying during discussion that the town shouldn’t eliminate the requirement for two RO units if it was granting five years of vested rights.
Councilman Pete McBride said he would go along with the five years of vesting. However, he said he doubts the housing market will bounce back to the strength of the mid-2000s for a long time. Developers might have to adjust their expectations rather than wait for a strong recovery, McBride said.
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