Keep Basalt charming
October 16, 2007
I’d like to thank the Basalt Town Council, spearheaded by Chris Seldin, Mark Kittle and Gary Tennenbaum, for listening to the citizens and voting to require more study of the Willits Town Center expansion.
After sitting through the entire four-plus hour meeting on Oct. 9, it was clear to me that there are two different visions of the Willits Town Center.
The Town Council, on which I served in the early 1990s, felt compelled to approve the original Town Center application because the town was facing potentially disastrous legal action. The economic consultants hired by the town at the time made it clear that property taxes from the homes in Willits would not pay for the cost of plowing the streets, caring for the parks and otherwise providing for the needs of Willits’ residents. Therefore, the council I served on decided to approve sufficient commercial buildings to pay some of the costs of caring for the entire Willits development.
I believed then, and still believe, that Willits should primarily be a residential neighborhood with only a limited number of shops serving the immediate needs of the residents ” a coffee shop, a dry cleaner, a few restaurants. Since the edge of the Town Center is no more than a block from City Market and the other stores in Orchard Plaza, that area would also serve the Willits residents and would be accessible by bike or on foot.
I believed then, and still believe, that everything should be done to keep Basalt’s wonderful, charming, historic downtown viable and that it, together with City Market, should be considered the primary economic engine of the town.
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Clearly, the Willits developers and the town’s current mayor have a different vision. The mayor said he envisioned Willits as “the economic engine of the town.” The developers want to put a big food market with a 200-space outdoor parking lot and numerous other stores in the town center. In this scenario, Willits will become a commercial center for the entire valley. Needless to say, this will bring thousands more vehicles to Willits, further aggravating the area’s traffic problems and endangering the children living in the development. Large-scale commercial development in Willits most probably will also suck the life out of Basalt’s historic old town.
Throughout the nation, highway shopping centers have killed the Main Street hearts of many small towns. However, there are towns in Vermont and other areas that have managed to keep their identities and their downtowns by limiting big highway developments. Basalt is a unique town with locally owned stores as opposed to chain stores. A Willits anchored by Whole Foods, a Texas company, will undoubtedly become the site for other outside companies.
Please don’t let Willits Town Center, with its boxy big buildings, develop into a large-scale commercial area that will draw customers in their automobiles away from Basalt’s friendly small-town heart.
Consider the alternatives, and let the Town Council know that you want to save our small town.