In Basalt, development is really paying its own way
Unlike most governments that talk tough by promising to make development pay its own way, Basalt is backing policy with practice.
Instead of making taxpayers subsidize the costs for the speedy review of development proposals, the town is making the applicants pay.
During talks regarding the town’s 2001 budget, the Town Council agreed that it won’t increase the size of its planning department to respond to growing development pressure. Instead, the town will hire outside consultants for the review of projects and bill the developers for the consultants’ time, according to Town Manager Tom Baker.
A contract planner will be hired to review a particular project only if the developer agrees in advance to cover the costs, Baker said.
While the policy smacks of blackmail to some developers, it’s viewed as good old-fashioned fiscal conservancy by the board. It will save the the expenses of extra benefits for employees and finding space in the cramped quarters of Town Hall.
“We certainly could have kept a staff of five planners busy,” said Baker. Instead, the planning department staff remains at two – Susan Philp and Glenn Hartmann.
The Town Council adopted the policy of turning to contract labor for planning issues last year, then reinforced it while working on this year’s budget.
The town is using a pool of at least five planning consultants from around the valley, including former Aspen-Pitkin County government planners Alan Richman, Kim Johnson and Tim Malloy.
Sometimes they work for and get paid by the town on civic planning issues. Other times the contract planners are hired specifically to handle reviews and get paid indirectly by the developers.
Aspen planning consultant Jamie Knowlton has been the busiest handling contract reviews for the town.
Even though the town decided it wouldn’t add to its planning staff, its planning expenses are soaring. The planning budget is $43,000 greater in 2001 than last year. More than half that increase, about $24,000, is due to an increase in “professional service.”
Town officials said the budget for that department would have been significantly greater this year if not for the policy decision to pass on costs of reviews to developers.
The policy has had a bonus benefit of encouraging developers to submit complete applications right off the bat and avoid time-consuming negotiations with the staff, according to Baker.
Time is money, and with developers footing the town planning consultants’ bills, they want to make sure the review goes as smoothly and quickly as possible.
The Roaring Fork Club was a guinea pig for the new policy. The town hired Knowlton to handle the golf course development firm’s request to amend part of its approval. Town Council members credited the club for coming in with a clear, concise application.
Baker said he hopes that the town and developers benefit in 2001 from straightforward plans and speedy reviews.
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