Size counts, but worker housing is key
BASALT Midvalley residents generally urged Basalt officials Thursday night to go with a slow pace of growth, although some claimed the lack of affordable housing poses a greater threat to the town’s character than size.Roughly 100 people from Basalt and surrounding areas attended a public hearing to learn about and offer their opinions on options town officials are considering to control growth.”I support the [lower] growth options, to the surprise of no one who knows me,” said Anne Freedman, a former town councilwoman. “This is not New Jersey, thank God. I left New Jersey. I don’t want to revisit it.”Other speakers indicated that they want to control growth to assure that traffic and environmental damage such as air pollution don’t overwhelm the midvalley. One speaker questioned whether there is enough water to meet high growth scenarios.Greg Smith said residents have spoken in favor of slow growth in community surveys conducted as part of the 1999 land use master plan and in 2005.Despite those prevailing sentiments, the discussion was far from lopsided. Some speakers warned that clamping down too severely on growth would eliminate chances to provide affordable housing at a time when average home prices in Basalt are soaring to $1 million.”The biggest challenge to this town is losing its working-class roots,” said John Black.The municipal government cannot afford to build subsidized housing like the city of Aspen, Black noted. But he believes developers would provide housing that preserves economic diversity in Basalt, if given the chance.Basalt businessman Ted Lupe was more blunt on that point. He said the Basalt Town Council and planning commission claim they want affordable housing, but they don’t support projects that offer it. He specifically cited the Roaring Fork Club, which included 36 affordable housing units, and Sopris Chase, which proposed 115.Both projects were withdrawn when it was evident town boards wouldn’t approve them because they were proposed for land outside the area defined as suitable for growth.”It doesn’t make any sense at all,” Lupe said.Architect Ted Guy said the town should concentrate more on preserving important qualities rather than worrying about the ultimate size of Basalt. Town planning efforts should determine how to provide affordable housing, commercial centers within walking distances of neighborhoods, and jobs close to where people live.”If you squeeze down growth, you make the property owners wealthy but you don’t do anything to improve our town,” Guy said.Sue Lavin, a local teacher, said land use planning cannot rely solely on maps and numbers for growth projections.”To me the question is what do human being needs?” Lavin said. “It’s about people, people who work hard and deserve affordable housing.”Thursday night’s meeting was the third major public hearing in the process of updating Basalt’s land use master plan. The planning commission will start crafting a draft. Town planners said the public will get additional chances to comment.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.