Riverwalk stumbles out of starting gate | AspenTimes.com

Riverwalk stumbles out of starting gate

The owner of the last big piece of undeveloped land in downtown Basalt was warned last night to pare down her proposal or risk rejection.

Town Council members told Frieda Wallison that her Riverwalk project is simply too big for Basalt’s small-town character.

Wallison and her partners have proposed a 74,000-square-foot project that mixes shops, restaurants, offices and residences. Their property is located across from St. Vincent Catholic Church on the east end of Midland Avenue, Basalt’s main street.

The strongest criticism of the project came from Mayor Rick Stevens, who said he was concerned about the traffic congestion and parking problems that could be created by Riverwalk.

“I’m sorry, but I have a real strong intuitive feeling that this is not the project I want built on the end of Midland Avenue,” said Stevens.

He said that Riverwalk made him as uncomfortable as any project that has ever come before the board during his six years as mayor.

Wallison has banked on getting approval for Riverwalk by comparing it to what she could build on the property. When Wallison acquired the site, it came with town approvals for about 43,500 square feet of commercial and residential space.

Wallison claimed her project is better because it preserves more open space and access to the Fryingpan River, creates density in an urban area where it is appropriate and reduces surface parking.

Supporters of her project claim the increased density is an appropriate trade for the benefit’s of her project. But Stevens and Councilwoman Anne Freedman expressed their doubts.

“We could get a lot more people here if we built the World Trade Center, but it’s a question of scale,” said Freedman.

She and Stevens both said they didn’t think adding more than 27,000 square feet to the project and risking traffic congestion without getting any major concessions from Wallison on affordable housing were worth altering her approval.

Stevens said he realized Wallison was protecting her financial interests with the project, but he countered that he was “here to protect the town’s bottom line.”

The proposal, he suggested, creates too much impact on the town’s small commercial core. Stevens was cheered by several audience members for his remarks. However, there were also several supporters of Riverwalk.

The three other council members participating in the discussion – Jon Fox-Rubin, Leroy Duroux and Tracy Bennett – weren’t as harsh on the Riverwalk proposal. But they didn’t rush to defend it, either.

The Town Council will continue its discussion about the project’s density at its June 27 meeting.

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