Some objections raised on Basalt hotel’s size
While the first round of public comments about a proposed hotel in Basalt were in favor of the project, concerns have emerged about its mass, scale, lack of affordable housing and relationship with the Roaring Fork River.
Willits resident Jae Gregory said she has become a “reluctant activist” over the project because she is concerned about the town’s future.
“This all got started for me when I saw the hotel going up in Willits,” Gregory said, referring to a 115-room Elements By Westin Hotel that is under construction and is slated to open later this year. “I think it’s an abomination.”
The hotel is too big and looms over the Willits neighborhood, Gregory said. She hopes it turns out to be Basalt’s wake-up call, much like the new Aspen Art Museum rekindled interest among Aspen residents about the direction of development.
Gregory said it is too late to do anything about the Willits hotel, but its approval gave her determination to follow the process with the downtown hotel proposed by Lowe Enterprises. No formal application has been submitted yet, but the development firm is proposing a 60-room boutique hotel with 12 affiliated luxury condominiums. Another 40 condominiums directed more at year-round residents are part of the project.
The location is the former site of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park, just west of downtown and adjacent to where the Rocky Mountain Institute is building its innovation center and office building.
Gregory said Lowe’s proposal for a fourth story on the hotel and development between Two Rivers Road and the Roaring Fork River run counter to the reasons many people moved to the valley.
“We moved here for the mountains, for the river,” she said.
The site provides great opportunity but also carries great responsibility, according to Gregory. She said a “remarkable” project is needed.
Bel and Emily Carpenter, Basalt residents and owners of a yoga studio for 18 years, wrote a letter to the Basalt mayor and council expressing some of the same concerns.
Bel noted that Basalt used to have roughly 360 residents of working-class families that were relocated when the trailers were removed. The project does nothing to provide diverse housing with condos priced at $500,000 and higher.
“It’s this big gap in Basalt,” Bel said.
Two big issues for Basalt are density and small-town character, according to the Carpenters. Some amount of growth is needed, but it must be in line with the rest of the town, Bel said.
Emily said they also are concerned with the amount of open space that will remain at the former Pan and Fork site. The town government owns 2.9 of 5.3 acres. It is developing a park on the site closest to the river. Lowe Enterprises has a contract to acquire the remaining 2.4 acres from the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp., a nonprofit that once envisioned development on the site that included a nonprofit campus.
The Carpenters said the development takes up too much of the site and limits access to the riverfront park.
“It’s not enough room,” Emily said. “People don’t come here, and we didn’t come here to live in the city.”
Bel wants to see the project scaled down and the site used as a special gathering spot for the town. The property could become a site that attracts people to Basalt and leads the revitalization of downtown.
Fryingpan Valley resident Lynn Nichols, who is active in many Basalt issues, wrote a letter to the editor pressing that same point. She said it is “frustrating” that Basalt hasn’t done more to take advantage of the river running through downtown — the one asset that makes it different from the other towns of the valley.
“The town of Basalt has allowed developers to come in and keep the community from physically, visually and psychologically accessing the Frying Pan and Roaring Fork Rivers,” Nichols wrote.
She was out of town Monday and couldn’t be reached for comment. Her letter concludes with a plea for Basalt to focus on redevelopment of existing places before it repeats past mistakes on the empty spaces of the Pan and Fork parcel.
Gregory said it is really hard for people to speak up and criticize the plan because it can affect their businesses or offend friends who have some type of connection to the proposal. Therefore, she said, she was reluctant to get involved.
“You know you’re going to piss people off. Who wants to do that?” she asked. Her hope is that people will get involved, work cooperatively and help create a project that will benefit the entire town.
Like Nichols, Gregory said past development hasn’t preserved access to the river. The Gold Rivers projects, across Midland Avenue from the Pan and Fork site, squeezed a public path between the buildings and the river, but it is uninviting.
“It would be an absolute crime against nature” to do something similar, Gregory said. “Basically the river is blocked off. You can’t see it from the town.”
The designers of the project said during a presentation to the Town Council on March 10 that they felt they were doing a good job inviting the public through the development. John Cottle of Cottle Carr Yaw Architects said there will be a large gap between the Rocky Mountain Institute building and the first building to the east constructed by Lowe. On the far east end of the site, near the intersection of Two Rivers Road and Midland Avenue, the entire entrance from downtown will be left open on the Lowe property, inviting people from downtown.
In between, a wide space that Cottle called a “living street” will be left between the hotel and a condo building. It would be an extension into the property from Midland Spur. Cottle said at the March 10 meeting that he envisioned food trucks, streets vendors and activities to draw people in. All told, 58 percent of the Lowe’s site will be preserved as open space, he said.
The Carpenters’ letter to the council scoffed at the notion that the project will invite people in.
“You say we will have views of the river, but they look like tunnels. How does this design not alienate people from feeling free to enjoy the park and not feel like they are trespassing?” the Carpenters asked.
Emily said the hotel needs to be “more modest” and built closer to the Rocky Mountain Institute’s building so that more of the property can be preserved as open space. She said they will get involved as best they can as owners of two studios and parents. At least one of them will attend meetings and, if necessary, she will collect signatures on a petition promoting her vision. The Carpenters said they believe more people share their vision than Lowe’s initial proposal.
The Basalt Town Council is scheduled to discuss the Lowe Enterprise’s plan in a work session today at 5 p.m. No decision will be made since an application hasn’t formally been submitted.
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