Initiative petition aims to restrict Midland Streetscape Project, though it’s unclear it could do so
Basalt businessowners, residents, and visitors lived with the disruption of Midland Avenue Streetscape Project all summer, waiting for the eventual payoff and enjoying the revitalized Basalt River Park in the meantime. But two people recently formalized their issues with the project to Basalt Town Hall.
Basalt resident Ted Guy and Tempranillo owner Laura Maine filed an initiative petition with the Town of Basalt on Aug. 31, seeking to add sections to the municipal code to tighten the restrictions on use of Capital Construction Funds to make it harder to alter or reconfigure off-street parking.
Initiative petitions are a method for citizens to propose and potentially pass new legislation.
In Basalt, the petition language has to be accepted by the town clerk — to ensure the petition proposes municipal legislation — and then the petitioners have 90 days from the date of their first signature to collect signatures from 10% of the town’s registered voters at the last general election, or 360 people.
Guy and Maine filed a previous petition on Aug. 21 that was rejected by Basalt Town Clerk Pam Schilling for language that aimed to limit the budget for the streetscape project at $11.5 million. Limiting the budget for a project is an administrative, not legislative, function she explained in a letter to them.
Those dollars are tracked in the Capital Construction Fund of the Basalt budget.
“They did not ask for a blank check; they specified a specific budget. They need to honor their marketing,” Guy said in an email. “They should have designed (the streetscape project) to meet the budget with optional-add alternatives to increase the cost if the bids came in under budget. Do we really need all the special finishes, tacky railroad crossing lights and other non functional but expensive ‘aspirational’ fluff?”
The Midland Streetscape Project is a construction project with a that scope runs from the Midland Spur down Midland Avenue in downtown Basalt. The project addresses aging infrastructure like water mains, bringing sidewalks and storefronts to ADA compliance, altering the parking layout, and more.
In 2021, Basalt voters overwhelmingly approved ballot issue 3A, which authorized the town to take on $18 million of debt through bonds to fund Basalt Forward Program initiatives, including affordable housing, streetscape and infrastructure improvements on Midland Avenue, and “green” projects.
That same year, estimates for the cost of the streetscape project were around $11.5 million — the other $7.5 million from the bonds was earmarked for the housing and green projects.
Then in 2022, the design phase of the project discovered that the Midland Spur would benefit from infrastructure work, and the town could relocate parking spaces along Midland Avenue to the spur.
According to Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney, the addition of the spur is what pushed the budget for the streetscape project to $17-18 million. That million-dollar difference is a result of a $1 or 2 million contingency, he said.
With about $11.5 million from the bonds, general fund dollars will fund the rest, along with about $2.5 million in grants he said the town has secured thus far. He defends using the general fund to supplement the project, saying the town should be re-investing its funds in improvements.
“In the last few years, we’ve been seeing costs rise exorbitantly for capital projects. We’ve also seen our revenues increase, and we’ve been able to set aside money as a result, which we have made clear to the public from the get-go, that we would have to supplement the project with general fund reserves,” he said. “And I think that’s a very prudent approach because re-investing in your community is exactly what the local government should be doing, especially when you have a few years of higher revenues that were anticipated, and that’s what we saw around the COVID.”
And the initiative petition seeks to limit the relocation or alteration of parking spaces downtown. The streetscape project moves around parking spaces downtown, but there is no net change in the number of spaces — 300. But there will be fewer along Midland Avenue and more on the spur, a potentially taxing walk for those with mobility challenges.
While Guy and Maine’s intent is to prevent changes to parking layout, Mahoney noted that the initiative petition almost certainly would not affect the streetscape project’s plans for parking. It proposes changes to the off-street parking code, and Midland Avenue and the spur are all on-street parking. On-street parking is not governed by zoning, he said, because the public road and public parking are in the Town’s right-of-way.
Guy and Maine did not respond to further questions about this apparent discrepancy.
Maine, who in the spring circulated an informal petition asking the Town Council to reschedule Midland Avenue construction outside of summer’s peak, said she just wants the voters to have another say now that parking changes and the Midland Spur are known parts of the project.
“I think if people had known (it would cost) $18 million for Midland Avenue, maybe they would have voted differently. Or if they’d known that they were going to lose parking downtown, maybe they would have voted differently,” she said. “I recognize that things change and prices go up. But then sometimes, that requires going back to the voters.”
She and Guy can turn in their petition with 360 signatures from registered Basalt voters at any time to Schilling, but the signatures must be collected within 90 days of the turn-in date. Then Schilling will verify the signatories, and Town Council may either adopt the proposed ordinance or the ordinance will go to Basalt voters via a special election or tagged onto an upcoming regular election ballot.