Stepping back from ringside seat for Basalt’s land use battles
Planning director Susan Philp will retire on Feb. 4
Susan Philp has had a front-row seat to some of the classic land use battles waged in the mid-Roaring Fork Valley over the past quarter century.
As Basalt’s planning director she walked a tightrope between factions battling over the future of the Basalt River Park property. She helped lead the town government’s unsuccessful effort to prevent or scale down Ace Lane’s Tree Farm development. She had to gingerly work with pro-development and no-growth camps when Basalt set development goals and urban growth boundaries.
Philp is giving up her ringside seat and retiring on Feb. 4. Town manager Ryan Mahoney said the opening has been advertised nationally. He anticipates getting a lot of interest from applicants within Colorado.
Despite yeoman duty in the tough land use arena, Philp is likely to be best remembered for a different role in Basalt. Whenever there was any kind of civic activity, Philp volunteered her time to help make it run smoother. She would help direct traffic at major recycling events around Earth Day and fill in where necessary when the town threw a street barbeque during The Great Recession.
“I love Basalt,” Philp said. “I love small town living. In the end, you are doing it for the community and so (volunteering) was easy.”
The Basalt town council and senior staff surprised Philp at her last council meeting on Tuesday night with a proclamation thanking her for her service.
“Susan shows up for, literally, everything Basalt,” said one of the bullet points in the proclamation.
“Susan has added her own language to the Community Planning in town, and her ‘Susanisms’ are forever entrenched in the vernacular of Basalt; and we will miss being gently nudged by ‘Grandma Philp’ when we stray from the herd,” the proclamation continued. “Susan’s spirit of kindness, generosity, authentic motivation to do the right thing and willingness to stand up for her convictions has made Basalt a better place for everyone.”
By rough estimate she’s attended 576 regular town council meetings — 24 meetings per year times 24 years. That swells to thousands of meetings when the planning commission and citizens’ committee gatherings are thrown in. She headed reviews of scores of major land use applications and hundreds overall. Each and every applicant, no doubt, felt his or her project should be streamlined.
She served through the tenures of six full-time town managers and a handful of interim managers over the 24 years. She worked on rewrites of the town’s master plan in 1999, 2007 and 2020.
Philp was hired in 1998 as a senior planner. She became planning director about two years later.
“When I started the big pressure was that we were just getting underway with the 1999 Master Plan and there was tons to do and a great deal of pressure to get it done,” she said. “At the same time, the Town was engaged in working on some Master Plan toolbox items such as adding affordable housing code and other impact fees and environmentally sensitive area regulations.”
Shortly after the master planning effort, the town government was reviewing major development applications such as what evolved into Willits Town Center.
When asked how she stayed above the fray, Philp replied, “I don’t know that I was above the fray. I would just say that the pressure was always shared by a larger team and the town council always took the political heat.”
Philp, a passionate Alpine skier, lives in Snowmass Village with husband, Lance Clarke, who retired a few years ago from the Pitkin County Community Development Department. Philp said her future would involve “lots of skiing and spending quality time with Lance.”
She will look back fondly on her time with Basalt.
“It is really rewarding working with other people to get great projects done, such as improvements to the river, parks, pedestrian and bicycle underpasses, and good development addressing community values,” she said.
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