New council fights pro-developer label
There’s a widespread perception – or maybe a misperception – that the Basalt Town Council became a developer’s best friend in Tuesday’s election.
But some observers said Wednesday that assessment is simplistic, at best, and inaccurate, at worst.
“I would have to be blind not to agree” that the perception exists, said Glenn Rappaport who received the most votes in the election while earning a seat on the council. “Somebody’s perception might be, ‘Come on down. Basalt’s open for business,'” he said.
But Rappaport said he believes the only message to developers is they can rely on quick and impartial review. Rappaport said he believes the new board will “digest” development applications quickly so that “we’re not wasting anybody’s time.”
The new board takes office Tuesday. Jacque Whitsitt will leave the board due to term limits, and Jon Fox-Rubin didn’t seek re-election. Mayor Rick Stevens also must leave due to term limits.
Whitsitt was extremely restrictive on growth. Fox-Rubin was more moderate, and Stevens varied by issue.
The Basalt Town Council created a perception it was tough on growth. In reality, its mettle hasn’t been tested in years because moratoriums and work on land-use plans have snuffed the number of applications coming through the door. Developers complain privately that applications that do get submitted disappear in an administrative black hole known as the Technical Review Committee.
Over the years, massive projects like the Roaring Fork Club and the Willits Town Center were approved by several of the members leaving office. Anne Freedman, a councilwoman who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in this election, repeatedly said during the campaign that roughly 1 million square feet of development is approved in Basalt but hasn’t been built yet due to the sluggish economy.
Despite that legacy of the current and prior boards, the one taking office is getting the label of “pro-growth.” The reasoning appears shaky.
Leroy Duroux will replace Stevens as mayor. The two men were often aligned on votes during nine years together on the board, although Freedman pointed out during the campaign that Duroux voted for a larger Riverwalk project and against a 5,000-square-foot house cap. Stevens voted the opposite way on the those issues.
Joining the council with Rappaport are Laurie Dows and Mark Kittle. None of those three is likely to be as restrictive as Whitsitt. However, Dows said after her victory that she heard clearly during the campaign that Basaltines want to keep growth “minimal.”
Rappaport, a Basalt architect, appears similar on growth to Fox-Rubin, a businessman in town. Rappaport said it would be inaccurate for people to consider him pro-growth.
“I’m just not label-able,” he said.
Kittle said during the campaign that he supports additional commercial development to generate more revenue for the town government. That position was regularly supported by Duroux as a councilman.
Based on what was said during the campaign, Duroux will likely be aligned with Rappaport and Kittle on issues. Dows may be more closely aligned with Freedman, who retained her council seat despite the loss in the mayoral election.
Tracy Bennett’s votes on growth have varied depending on the project during her six years on the board. Like Freedman, she voted against the bigger Riverwalk application.
Councilwoman Tiffany Ernemann hasn’t faced any votes on any major development applications during more than two years on the board. She said she “really hates using terms” like pro-growth and anti-growth.
“I think it’s an unfair characterization,” she said. “I think everybody’s heart is in the right place.”
Ernemann said she wasn’t surprised by the outcome of the election and doesn’t expect to see any drastic changes.
However, she noted that work on the River Master Plan, a planning document, is coming to an end. Once that document is in place, it could spur the redevelopment of property along the Roaring Fork River where the Pan and Fork and the Roaring Fork mobile home parks are located.
In addition, the developers will be required to replace 100 percent of the affordable housing being displaced.
Although the ground work for those changes was put in place by the current council, the timing is such that the new council will actually vote on whatever projects get proposed, Ernemann said.
“It would be easy for some people to say, ‘See, I told you this is a pro-growth board,'” Ernemann said. But that doesn’t mean it would be accurate, she said.
Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com