Is Basalt too tough on development?
Basalt was once known as a town where developers had their way. Now some town leaders wonder if they’re being too tough on the development industry.The town hasn’t processed a major new development application since back in the Jurassic Period, or at least prior to the completion of a new community master plan and new land-use regulations in 1999.Some members of the Town Council and planning commission raised the possibility in a joint meeting last week that Basalt’s exactions, land-use code and a tough public review process are responsible for snuffing new growth.Planning commission chairman Norm Bacheldor warned that the town’s rules may be creating a process that only large development firms can afford to participate in. The town government needs to clearly define its goals so smaller developers can submit proposals, he said.Town consultant Don Ensign of Design Workshop took the debate a step further. He told the boards they really need to hash out development policies internally so that the review of projects doesn’t bog down in a costly, time-consuming process that drives developers away.The debate was part of a larger discussion on the creation of a river master plan, a blueprint on what type of development would be allowed along the Roaring Fork River and what should remain open space due to flood threats. That river plan will also serve as an update for a substantial part of the community master plan completed in 1999.Ensign’s firm has taken a first crack at the blueprint for riverside development. It includes estimates of how much commercial and residential growth could be allowed, but he stressed that it was just a proposal to start the discussion, not a firm recommendation.That relieved some Basalt leaders. “Some people said it looks like Vail-scale development,” said Bernie Grauer, a planning commission member.He said the plan proposes allowing 1.2 million square feet of commercial and residential development along with 2,100 parking spaces. He said his research with town planners indicated that was a 33 percent increase over what existing regulations would allow.”This is a fairly quantum leap forward,” he said.Councilwoman Anne Freedman said the Ensign proposal “can’t be perceived as the Basalt I would want to see.”Councilman Glenn Rappaport said the river master plan poses an interesting dilemma. Nearly every council member was elected on a platform of preserving small-town character yet the plan requires rather large-scale development, he said.Rappaport explained that leaving land open along the Roaring Fork River – like in the hypothetical redevelopment of the Pan and Fork and Roaring Fork mobile home parks – requires higher density development on adjacent lands, away from the river. That’s the only way developers could afford the riverside open space.The council and commission are nowhere close to final decisions, so developers cannot expect an easier time anytime soon nor do strict growth control proponents need to worry.Grauer challenged the notion that the review process needs to be streamlined. He said he believes thorough community debate is healthy. The town government must also ensure residents know growth regulations are being re-evaluated and that they have a chance at input, he said.Grauer also challenged the notion that the town has been too tough on developers. He said the redevelopment of the bookstore building and the Little Snell project, along with new development at Riverwalk and Willits, show Basalt is in no danger of snuffing growth.Planning commission member Michael Ernemann responded that all the projects cited by Grauer had approvals prior to Basalt’s update of its code or, in the case of Little Snell, through special historic development guidelines. Ernemann contended the current rules have chased away new, affordable projects.The town boards will meet throughout the winter to try to complete the river master plan.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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