Leaders in Basalt hope to repair wounded relations | AspenTimes.com

Leaders in Basalt hope to repair wounded relations

Some of the citizen advisors who put in long hours and dig into details as members of the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission are wondering if their efforts are worth it.They might get their answer Monday night.The planning commission is scheduled to meet with the Basalt Town Council to discuss the different and often opposing visions the boards seem to hold about future growth of the town.The planning commissioners, who are volunteers appointed by the Town Council, have become increasingly alarmed that their recommendations get overruled by the Town Council.The most glaring example was Riverwalk, a controversial project in the heart of Basalt. After months of excruciating review, the planning commission unanimously recommended approval of the plan last spring. The Town Council rejected the proposal in October.Several council members said that the project was too dense as proposed, even at its location in the town core.Planning commissioner Joe Zuena said in an interview last month that he was “blown away” by the Riverwalk vote. He felt the mixed-use commercial and residential project met the standards of a master plan that the P&Z and Town Council had meticulously crafted to guide future growth. In short, he felt Riverwalk provided density where it belongs and is wanted – in the downtown core.”Everybody thought we were on the same page,” Zuena said.Now he’s not so sure. Zuena abstained from voting on another recent Midland Avenue development project because he said he is uncertain what exactly the Town Council wants downtown.P&Z member Tiffany Gildred also abstained from voting on that project because of a problem with the review process. Gildred told The Aspen Times in a recent e-mail interview that her frustration “stemmed from a feeling of superfluousness to the whole process. In other words, given the fact that a project can be overwhelmingly approved at the staff and P&Z levels, how is it that when it reaches the Board it can still be fraught with so much controversy?”She said the planning commission needs to meet with the Town Council to define and clarify what role the advisors play in Basalt government.”There is nothing more frustrating, as a volunteer to my community, than to feel that I am spinning my wheels,” Gildred wrote.A second root of frustration, Gildred disclosed, is that recent actions have eroded public confidence in the review process and undermined the planning commission’s credibility. There are concerns that Basalt isn’t following a structured process in its reviews. That raises issues of basic fairness.Gildred said her airing of concerns isn’t meant as an “insurrection.””I definitely do not intend my abstention [from the recent vote] to be confrontational, but rather to be viewed as an opportunity to brainstorm with respect to concerns I believe staff, P&Z and the Board already share,” she wrote.Basalt Town Manager Tom Baker said a joint meeting of the boards is long overdue. Any time a volunteer board’s advice is overruled, members of that board naturally want to know why, he noted.While a policy discussion is needed to make sure the two boards are following a similar path for Basalt’s growth, Baker said some level of disagreement may be healthy.”I’m not saying everybody has to agree,” he said.Baker also noted that the council members have broader roles to play in town government. The staff plays a technical role. The planning commission advises on land-use issues. And the council members must weigh all aspects of their constituents’ welfare.Therefore, he said, they must sometimes consider issues that planning commission members don’t have to worry about.The two boards are scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Monday at Town Hall to discuss their relations.

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