Basalt, Willits developer reach conceptual deal on converting retail to residential

A worker takes a lunch break Wednesday at the construction site of a new apartment complex at Willits Town Center. The apartments are being built at the intersection of Willits Lane and Valley Road.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |

The Basalt town government staff and developer of Willits Town Center hammered out the guts of an agreement that will allow unconstructed commercial space to be converted into residences.

The Basalt Town Council approved the conceptual agreement Tuesday night, but members said they want more goodies for taxpayers. It will come back for a second look by the council Feb. 13.

The highlight of the proposal allows Mariner Real Estate Management to build 74 more residential units totaling 50,000 square feet at the mixed-use area anchored by Whole Foods Market. The overall square footage of the complex for commercial and free-market residences will remain at 563,717 square feet, the agreement says. Mariner would build less commercial if it builds more residential.

Mariner representative Tim Belinski said at a November meeting that Willits has about 70,000 square feet of constructed commercial space that hadn’t been rented at that time, so it doesn’t make sense to build more. Rapidly growing online retail sales are changing the demand for brick-and-mortar commercial space.

The agreement also would create a real estate transfer assessment on sales of most undeveloped property at the center. The town government would use revenue from the assessment for improvements at Willits. It would raise an estimated $1 million.

Council members credited the staff and developer for seeking compromises to resolve the issue. It is seen as a way to speed development of the last three blocks at Willits.

However, Councilman Auden Schendler said the change is giving a significant economic boost to the project, so he wants more for taxpayers in return. The commercial space wasn’t going to sell, he reasoned, so it was dead space for the developer. The residential space won’t have any problem selling, he said.

“For the economic increase for the project, we should get a little more,” Schendler said. “This is a gift and that’s great. I want you guys to do well.”

Other council members agreed the pot should be sweetened for the public somehow before the proposed agreement comes back to the board for the second reading in February.

The agreement was approved 7-0 on the first of the two required readings.

The agreement also includes a requirement that Mariner screens undeveloped areas with a 6-foot cedar fence. That will include fencing along two undeveloped areas along Willits Lane.

Royal Laybourn, a business owner in the neighborhood south of Willits, said the screening of dirt piles, weed patches and construction material storage areas should have been required years ago.

“All last summer we basically had a quarry operation going on,” Laybourn said. “It’s really unsightly. It’s unfair.”


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