Basalt candidates discuss balancing preservation of small-town character with growth
Editor’s note: There are six candidates for three seats on the Basalt Town Council in the April 3 election. The Aspen Times will run a Q&A forum with the candidates Monday through Friday this week.
Question: One of the toughest duties of an elected official in the Roaring Fork Valley is balancing preservation of small-town character with growth. Smart growth is an overused term that has become meaningless. How would you balance preservation of small-town character and growth?
Carol Hawk: I still see value in smart growth. I know no one in this valley wants to see multi-story buildings up and down the valley, nor do I, but I think many agree that smart, small-scale growth should be along the Highway 82 corridor as we have a very efficient bus system with RFTA. We need to focus on creating a Basalt where we can live, work and play. I would like to see an active economic council through the Chamber providing resources to existing businesses and attracting new businesses. If you walk around Basalt, it has small-town character. Most everyone knows each other, walks to the shops and restaurants and uses the parks. The picnic tables at Whole Foods are referred to as the student union. Small-town character is not about buildings but about relationships and connections. Basalt needs to create more opportunities to bring people together to create connections making our entire community stronger. I also think our town boundaries are what creates a larger divide in our community than growth. I would like to look at how to smooth some of those jurisdictional divides. For more on this issue, check out my Facebook page, Carol Hawk for Basalt Council.
William Infante: My family and I love Basalt and the outdoors that we have ready access to. We hike, bike and fish all within town limits. And the best way, I believe, to preserve our natural resources — the open spaces, wildlands, rivers, forests and fields — is to concentrate future development in the core. It’s simply logical and wise to locate population near transport, commercial, education and medical services that support daily needs and minimize our carbon footprint. Preserving and enhancing our small-town character isn’t at odds with development or growth, because small-town character is a frame of mind, and it is not a function of how big or how high we build a building. It is about the people who call Basalt home, and the relations, the warmth, respect and common sense of purpose and identity that they share. I will hope to work with council and our town to inspire greater sense of community spirit and cohesion that are the essence of small-town character.
Ryan Slack: Small-town character is more than just the “size of the town.” It is being able to walk the streets, say hello to our neighbors and know the local business owners. Growth is going to happen whether we like it or not. We need to make sure that the growth is focused in the downtown core of Basalt and at Willits. This will help to preserve the character of our small town. Reducing sprawl and incentivizing the use of our amazing bus system is a priority for me. Our downtown is a special place in the valley and we need to make sure we maintain the old buildings as well as encourage development of the Clark’s Market parcel and the city-owned lot at the end of Spur Lane. The old and the new buildings could come together and bring the vitality we all desire to downtown.
Gary Tennenbaum: Regional planning is critical. We cannot sprawl like what is currently going to happen and pretend we are practicing smart growth. We need to engage the surrounding counties, the citizens and businesses to come up with a comprehensive master plan. In town, we need to engage the citizens to see what level and type of growth they want to see in the town limits when the town’s master plan is revisited later this year. We have to see what the capacity of our schools, roads, police, transportation system, parks, trails, affordable housing, early child care and waste services — just to name a few — can handle and that should limit our growth to not require massive public investments to deal with all the growth. We need to look holistically at all of the services that are needed to sustain our communities and look to solve our current needs before adding so much more.
Bernie Grauer: Small-town character should be preserved by not over-developing Basalt. That being said, reasonable development on the Pan and Fork parcel and at the former Clark’s Market should be encouraged. Size, mass and density do matter when it comes to small-town character. The Tree Farm development of 340 residences and 134,000 square feet of commercial space on Basalt’s door step is the perfect example of what is not small-town character or smart growth. It will cause massive traffic congestion and pollution at what already is a traffic choke point on the highway at Willits Town Center. While the Tree Farm is inside the town’s urban growth boundary, the uses were to be more industrial and the residences were limited to medium density. Commercial and residential density needs to be significantly reduced and the affordable-housing component significantly increased before I would consider a possible annexation. The town’s master plan needs to be updated as soon as possible to reflect the preservation of small-town character and reasonable development.
Todd Hartley: “Small-town character” is a nebulous term. No one really agrees on what it means, but some have taken it to mean fighting against any sort of development or growth. While well-intentioned, this mindset has been unable to fend off growth and instead led to development being done with no overall plan. And a refusal to allow Midland Avenue to evolve has contributed to longtime businesses fleeing to Willits. The result is that on Midland Avenue we now have a massage parlor and a gun store, which don’t really say “small town.” And once Stott’s Mill is built out, we’ll have kids sitting on buses for 40 minutes just to get through the intersection because anti-development forces have left us almost no other options. Again, hardly “small town.” Small-town character is about creating spaces and events where locals congregate and get to know their neighbors, creating jobs and housing that allow Basaltines to live close to work, and a better sense of town unity between all the Basalt area’s neighborhoods, from Holland Hills to Blue Lake.