Let’s make a deal: Basalt council wants public benefit in return for height variance for building
Proposed Emma Flats project would add 12 apartments
A proposal for a 12-unit apartment building along the Roaring Fork River in Basalt received a generally favorable review from Town Council this week, but the developer must up the ante on public benefits to earn a height variance.
The council voted 6-0 to pass a resolution granting sketch plan approval for a project called Emma Flats. The resolution excluded the developer’s request to exceed the town’s 30-foot height limit by 2 feet, but council members said they would be willing to reconsider when the project returns for the next round of review.
“I want to see what the public benefit is” of granting the height variance, said Councilman Gary Tennenbaum at a meeting Tuesday night. He said he was a “little concerned” granting the variance without a clear-cut public benefit because it would set a precedent for similar requests. If the town gets a benefit, they could hold other developers to a similar standard.
Emma Flats would have nine free-market rental apartments and three deed-restricted affordable housing units. The three-story building would have just shy of 10,000 livable square feet. The proposal meets the town’s affordable housing requirement.
Aaron Ward, the property owner and project developer, said as the owner of a small business — a commercial real estate appraiser — he is aware how tough it is to retain employees. Many people leave the Roaring Fork Valley out of frustration over high housing prices and limited options, he said.
The free-market units will appeal to professionals while the deed-restricted housing will be rent controlled for qualifying workforce residents.
“That’s kind of where we’re coming from with this project,” Ward said.
There would be no rent cap on the free-market units, which are a mix of two- and one-bedroom apartments.
Emma Flats is proposed on the east end of the section of Emma Road that is located between Highway 82 and the Roaring Fork River. Harry Teague’s office building is just west of the new apartment site and the existing 56-unit Roaring Fork Apartments is farther to the west.
Project architect Ramsey Fulton said the units would be oriented to overlook the river. Pitkin County’s whitewater park is directly behind the site. Parking would be on the highway side.
The variance to 32 feet is sought to increase ceiling height of all units, let in more natural light and generally make the units more sustainable, Fulton said.
The development team pitched the project as a transit-oriented development since it is so close to a public bus stop. Residents will have good incentive to leave their vehicles at home, the team said.
The project did not run into major hurdles because it meets several of Basalt’s master plan goals. After Tennenbaum suggested there must be a public benefit to justify the extra 2 feet in height, Councilwoman Elyse Hottel suggested Ward might be able to extend the existing Ponderosa Trail on adjoining property onto his land along the river.
Mayor Bill Kane suggested a better pedestrian connection to the bus stop might be a fitting public benefit. He said he agreed that the extra 2 feet would make the units more pleasant to live in.
The council pledged to give Ward a chance to sway them at the next stage of review, at a time to be determined.
“It would be wise to put your thinking caps on,” Kane told the development team.
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During the 2020-2021 school year Roaring Fork School District saw 311 students withdraw across the district by October — many for pandemic-related reasons, Chief Academic Officer Rick Holt said.