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Land-use rules killing Basalt?

Basalt’s approval last week of a third moratorium in three years has helped drastically change the town’s reputation with the development community.

While developers once saw Basalt as a town issuing them an open invitation, many now regard it as a graveyard for their line of work.

“I think it’s worse than in Pitkin County and Aspen,” said Herb Klein, an Aspen land-use attorney who is representing the developers of Willits, one of the largest projects in Basalt.

“In Pitkin County and Aspen you are in a process. You’re getting on agendas,” said Klein. “In Basalt, they just ignore you. They throw the (land-use) code out the window and say, `Negotiate.'”

Basalt Town Manager Tom Baker defended the town government’s actions as necessary products of dealing with important growth issues. The town has a planning staff of two members. Individual developers bring resources and time demands that, combined, overwhelm the staff, Baker said. Freeze started in 1997 Basalt officials changed the way they dealt with growth and development in August 1997 when they passed a one-year moratorium on major new development applications and annexation requests. The moratorium – officially labeled an “interim development control” – was approved to give the town time to work on a master plan, a document to guide future growth.

It was twice extended for six months because the master plan wasn’t completed as soon as anticipated. State law prohibited Basalt from keeping the moratorium in place longer than two years, so it expired in August 1999.

In theory the moratorium didn’t effect projects already in the process. In reality, claimed Willits developer Michael Lipkin, the master planning chewed up the time of the Town Council and staff. Projects such as Willits were squeezed from limited agenda availability.

Although the moratorium was lifted more than one year ago, Lipkin and other applicants claim Town Council agenda time has remained scarce because so much work piled up during completion of the master plan. Flood of new rules Then, last month, the council enacted a moratorium on demolition of structures older than 75 years as well as approving strict standards for flood-plain development.

While not a blanket moratorium, the criteria prohibit work that produces any increase in the river depth in the flood plain.

Those criteria establish a “filter test that is unachievable,” claimed Dale Potvin, developer of a project called Southside, at the Sept. 12 Town Council meeting. The regulations need to be more flexible for projects like Southside, which is “infill” within a larger project or developed neighborhood.

Southside received approval from the planning commission nearly six years ago. Development has been phased, so some of the later work is ensnared by the new criteria for flood-plain work.

“It just seems unfair that we’re going to be delayed again,” Potvin told the council.

Council members defended the tough standards as necessary while the town government works on permanent flood-plain development criteria and studies what work needs to be taken to address flooding and other river concerns.

They said they didn’t want to allow any work to go forward that could potentially alter flood relief measures. `It’s killing Basalt’ Last week, the Town Council added a six-month moratorium on demolition of structures 75 years of age and older to buy time for permanent historic preservation guidelines.

“Every time you turn around there’s a new rule,” said Raul Gawrys, a Basalt architect.

He applauded efforts at historic preservation, but said it should be by incentive, not caveat.

Gawrys is working on a project across the Roaring Fork River from the 7-Eleven that’s been caught in a clogged review pipeline. That project – which could add 14,000 square feet of restaurants, retail shops, offices and free-market residences to the town’s mix – must also deal with the new flood-plain criteria.

Gawrys claimed an infill project like that building, which isn’t stretching the town’s boundaries, should sail through the review process. It matches the town’s new master plan well, he claimed.

The problem is agenda time. “There’s such limited space, people are dying to get before the board,” said Gawrys.

When asked to gauge the cumulative effects of the review delays and moratoriums, Gawrys replied, “It’s killing Basalt, I think.”

Willits went into the approval process six years ago. It received approvals for 380 residential units before the Town Council put the brakes on the review.

A town center, with more than 456,000 square feet of commercial and possibly residential space, has been the center of debate for the last two years. Dubious distinction It probably gives Willits the distinction of being the project with the longest review in the valley, with its total of six years. Even Aspen Highlands, a controversial project review by Pitkin County, made it through in five years.

The distinction is one Lipkin would gladly end. He fears that the demand for the hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial space at Willits will diminish at the hands of large projects proposed in Carbondale and unincorporated Garfield County.

Not only will he suffer trying to lease or sell his space, but Basalt will lose out on tax revenues.

Basalt Councilman Leroy Duroux, regarded as more moderate on growth than most of his fellow board members, said a decision on Willits is way overdue.

The council decided in May it would try to rule on Willits by July 25. No ruling is in sight.

Duroux also noted that developers of new applications were supposed to benefit from the new master plan, according to Duroux. They were supposed to get quick rulings on whether or not their projects complied with the town’s new guidelines. Unfortunately, Duroux said, the Town Council hasn’t honed that process yet.

When asked whether Basalt has created an unmanageable process, Duroux indicated the various steps that have been taken – such as the master plan and riverside development guidelines – will benefit the town in the long run.

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Posted: Monday, October 2, 2000


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