Skico, Willits neighbors at odds over parking solutions for proposed project
When the Basalt Town Council takes up the debate on Aspen Skiing Co.’s proposed affordable housing project at Willits, parking will emerge as a key battleground.
Skico wants to use a combination of off-street, surface parking on its site as well as designated parking on a public street to meet its obligation for 67 spaces.
Many members of the public who have weighed in on the request have said “no way.”
The Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-0 last week to recommend approval of the project with numerous conditions. The proposal will be presented to the council for the first time in its regular meeting Tuesday evening. Skico is proposing 36 units that would house about 148 people.
The project is supported by representatives of 15 businesses in Willits Town Center but widely opposed by residents of the neighborhood. One key criticism was that Skico wants to use 33 parking spaces on a public street for its tenants. It also would provide 34 off-street parking spaces in a surface lot.
Part of Skico’s reasoning is it is converting commercial uses to residential uses. Therefore, some of the parking demand will ease. The development approvals by the town allocated 45 parking spaces for commercial uses at the site Skico wants to convert to residential.
Town staff proposed one option could be charging Skico $20,212 for the 33 spaces, with an annual increase, for the spaces. The planning commission supported that approach.
Critics contend allowing 33 public spaces to be used for the private housing development will make a tough parking situation in Willits even worse. When additional businesses sprout and a planned performing arts center is constructed, parking will be in too short of supply, a handful of speakers said during a P&Z hearing.
They also said the 33 spaces for tenants are just the tip of the iceberg. Friends and visitors of the tenants will park in spaces that shops, restaurants and other homeowners in Willits Town Center depend on.
“We’re already squeezed,” Willits resident Brenda Wild said. She summed up sentiments of several attendees when she urged the commission to make Skico build adequate parking beneath the housing building.
Another speaker objected to the proposed rent of only $20,212.
“For Skico, $20,000 is peanuts,” he said.
Skico will contend to the council that forcing it to build a parking garage will be a deal breaker for the project.
Skico project manager Philip Jeffreys said after the planning commission meeting that providing a parking garage with 67 spaces beneath the building would cost roughly $3 million. The extra cost would make the project economically infeasible for the company, he said.
He noted that Skico isn’t asking for anything unprecedented. The developer of the Element Hotel received permission from council to park exclusively on 62 spaces of town-owned land. That was among a package of concessions the town government granted to make the project work economically.
Jim Charlier, principal in Charlier and Associates, Skico’s consultant on traffic and parking, concurred that affordable-housing projects can only remain affordable if underground parking garages are limited. He said the perceived demand for parking is inflated because some existing residents are parking on the street for convenience rather than using existing garages and allocated spaces under their buildings. Some spots also are being used for long-term storage of vehicles, trailers and boats, he said. Vehicles aren’t supposed to occupy a street space for more than 72 hours but Basalt doesn’t enforce parking in Willits at this time.
Jeffreys also contended that an undetermined number of tenants won’t have personal vehicles because the location of the building is so close to the major bus stop by Whole Foods. Skico touts the site and project as transit oriented.
But a letter submitted to town officials by Basalt resident Julee Roth said pretending a residential development won’t create demand for parking is a wishful thinking.
“No matter how much incentive, no matter all the various transport options we have in this valley and no matter the good intentions of building a facility to encourage public rather than private transport, the fact remains people own cars,” Roth wrote. “They want them, they use them and they have to keep them somewhere.”
She urged the council to approve Skico’s project — but require them to build the parking garage beneath.
“It can make better friends and neighbors instead of angry residents vying for limited parking spots,” she wrote.
The presentation to council is scheduled to begin at 6:20 p.m. Tuesday at Town Hall.
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The city of Aspen’s land use code says that only single-family homes can be built on lots smaller than 6,000 square feet in certain neighborhoods. That might change if Aspen City Council allows a proposed change that allows multi-family buildings to be developed.