Growing Basalt still a bedroom community
Even with some success in attracting new businesses and creating more jobs in recent years, Basalt still struggles to shake off its reputation as a bedroom community.Results of an extensive community survey show that many Basalt residents depend on Aspen to work and Glenwood Springs to shop.Two out of every three employees are commuting out of the Basalt and El Jebel areas for their jobs, according to the survey. Most are commuting upvalley.About 54 percent of respondents who work said their jobs are in Aspen, Snowmass Village or other parts of the upper valley. Only 33 percent of people polled in a random sample of the town’s voter registration list are employed in Basalt or El Jebel.The town government commissioned the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments to perform the survey. It provides a demographic profile of the town and shows what issues and services are important to residents.When probing consumer spending habits, the survey showed that Basalt does a good job keeping money circulating within town for groceries, dining, gasoline and drug prescriptions. The majority of funds spent on items like clothing, sporting goods and household furnishings “leak” out of town.About 92 percent of local residents said they “predominantly shop” in Basalt for groceries. The big midvalley selection of restaurants also keeps the locals at home. About 82.5 percent said they frequent the local eateries but 41 percent also said they eat in Aspen frequently. Respondents weren’t limited to one response.High percentages of Basaltines also shop in their town for gasoline, 80 percent, and for medical prescriptions, 79 percent.The survey also showed high loyalty to Valley Lumber, the only hardware store in town. About 55 percent of respondents said they shop predominantly in Basalt for hardware and building supplies.The town is naturally losing out on consumer spending on big ticket items like automobiles and appliances. There are few local options for those goods.But dollars are also leaking to Glenwood Springs and elsewhere for some goods that are available in Basalt. Only 17 percent of respondents said they predominantly shop for clothing in Basalt. The top response, 38 percent, said they rely on mail order or the Internet. Another 33 percent said they shop for cloths in Denver while 29 picked Glenwood Springs.About 42.5 percent of respondents said they predominantly shop in Glenwood for sporting goods and equipment while 23.5 percent said Basalt.The town government wants to see dollars stay within the community because it produces more sales tax revenues. About 50 percent of Basalt’s general fund, used to run most services, comes from sales tax revenues.Also, sales tax revenues account for 75 percent of all tax dollars for the town, reflecting the low property tax rates in Colorado.Town Manager Bill Efting said the survey shows that in the areas where Basalt has lots of businesses, if effectively keeps dollars within the community. He said he doesn’t see a lot of new types of businesses opening, so stopping the “leakage” of spending in other communities is unlikely.Councilwoman Tiffany Ernemann, a hotel owner in town, said it’s clear that Basalt isn’t an independently viable town yet on the economic front. It needs to attract more businesses so residents don’t commute elsewhere for jobs and spending.One way the town government could help is by easing requirements for commercial development. The town requires a variety of mitigation measures, like employee housing.”I think we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by having high exactions,” Ernemann said.She said she would also like to use zoning, deed restrictions or annexation agreements to require developers to sell more of their commercial spaces so more business owners can own rather than rent.Basalt residents can also improve the business climate by making a conscious effort to shop locally, such as buying a book in town rather than shopping online at Amazon.com, Ernemann noted.Basalt developer and commercial landlord Robert Ritchie said he doesn’t sense that a broad diversification of the types of businesses is on the town’s horizon. The potential for commercial development isn’t great enough to create a broad range of retail shops, he said.The town government could improve the business climate by promoting redevelopment of the two trailer parks in the heart of town, he said. Creating parks on the river and a mixed use of residential and commercial development out of the floodway would give Basalt the feel of a “mini-San Antonio” and spur greater sales activity, Ritchie said.The community survey polled 106 Basalt businesses separately from voters.It’s no surprise that business owners said increasing sales is their top concern. But in a different question, more business owners identified “preservation of small-town character” as the top issue facing Basalt over “a healthy economy.”Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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