Group wants vote on Basalt master plan
After six years of political bliss, Basalt is on the brink of battle.Members of a new citizens group say they will try to force an election that will require the Town Council to stop reviewing a golf course expansion until a town land-use master plan is rewritten later this year.The group, which doesn’t have a name yet, is drafting language for a petition and expects to start collecting signatures later this month.”I’d say we’re 90 percent there. I’m pushing for it,” said David Cramer, an organizer of the group.If it collects enough signatures – nearly 200 – the town would have to schedule an election.Members of the citizens group insist the core issue is compliance with the master plan, not the Roaring Fork Club’s expansion proposal.Cramer said scores of town residents helped write the town’s master plan in 1999. As part of that process, they established an urban growth boundary – or area where the town should expand.The ranch where the Roaring Fork Club wants to add nine holes of golf and 24 luxury cabins is only partially in that urban growth boundary. Residents wanted the rest of the ranch to remain as it is, Cramer said.The council is violating the master plan by accepting an application that proposes uses different from what was contemplated, claimed Cramer and Jacque Whitsitt, a former councilwoman and member of the citizens group.”If you don’t like a contract you made, you change it, you don’t break it,” Whitsitt said.Potentially divisive issueWhitsitt acknowledged there is a danger that the debate could divide the town. That can be avoided, she said, if residents and elected officials realize their differences are over policy and avoid personalizing it.She said the citizens group didn’t have any choice but to pursue an election after the council turned down its request to put the golf club’s application on hold.”There is no other way to get them to comply with the commitment to the community,” she said.The council decided it would allow the review of the golf application to proceed while simultaneously working on the master plan update. Basalt politics have been a lovefest in recent years. Former Town Manager Tom Baker implemented a system where resident participation was paramount. Consensus positions were usually reached after long, drawn-out debates by special citizen committees. The system made for calm, reasonable approaches to issues but slowed governing to a glacial pace.The Roaring Fork Club’s application is the first major test of the 1999 master plan. The town has avoided nasty battles over development projects like Aspen faced over Burlingame, Snowmass Village faced over Base Village, and Carbondale and Glenwood Springs faced over big commercial centers.Former mayor supports clubIn addition to Whitsitt, Basalt’s debate has attracted two other popular elected officials who recently left office.Former Councilman Jon Fox-Rubin is helping organize the citizens’ effort. On the other side of the debate, former Mayor Rick Stevens said the town has done enough planning and has all the tools it needs to make a decision on the Roaring Fork Club’s proposal. He suggested issues that some people portray as black and white are sometimes more gray.”People are drawing a circle around Basalt and it’s like the Berlin Wall,” Stevens said. He challenged the citizens group’s notion that all land outside the urban growth boundary is inappropriate for some development. The town’s needs change over time, he noted.Stevens said he also supports the Roaring Fork Club’s proposal because it addresses an issue of critical importance. The club will set aside land for an affordable housing project of up to 36 units. The top priority for those housing units will be residents of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park, which the town has identified as in harm’s way of a potential catastrophic flood. A top goal of the town is to relocate the park’s residents.Stevens said Basalt is pursuing a well-reasoned approach to growth, unlike other towns struggling to find their identities. The well-reasoned approach, he said, included approving the original phase of the Roaring Fork Club in the late 1990s. The club has eased some of Basalt’s dependence on the upper valley for jobs and income. He senses people are comfortable with the path Basalt has chosen.”I don’t sense a lot of panic in the town about the direction it’s going in,” he said.Support from unlikely sourceThe citizen initiative has received endorsement from one current council member. “I think that’s their only recourse,” Anne Freedman said.Freedman supported placing the golf club’s application on hold until the master plan was completed. Although she lost that vote, she still feels that would be the best policy for the town.”I think it sets a bad precedent if we ignore our own master plan,” Freedman said. The document isn’t legally binding but was established after significant input from residents, she said.Another council member disputed that the master plan is being ignored. Glenn Rappaport said the golf club’s application maintains the rural character of the Meyer ranch with low-density development. If the property was placed within the urban growth boundary, this type of application never would have been submitted, he said. Something with much higher density would have been sought.Rappaport said he voted to review the golf club’s application while working on the master plan update because he envisioned a hybrid type of process where residents would be allowed, even encouraged, to express their vision for the Meyer ranch. He wants the debate to be broader than just the golf club’s proposal.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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