Three Basalt candidates vow change in direction |

Three Basalt candidates vow change in direction

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

BASALT ” Three of the six candidates running for Basalt Town Council seats said they will give voters an alternative to the tough, sometimes confrontational stance of current council members on development.

Candidates Garret Brandt, Brian Dillard and Rick Stevens stressed they will work with developers rather than take unyielding positions. They claimed the town benefits more from cooperation.

Stevens, a former Basalt mayor, said Monday that Basalt government is dominated right now by three council members and a small but active contingent of their supporters who regularly attend meetings. He said he wants to “restore balance” on the seven-member council.

“People feel there’s just a one-sided viewpoint,” Stevens said. In a separate interview last week, Stevens called this election “an opportunity to get a board that’s not so homogenized.”

The three other council candidates in the race ” Pete McBride, Katie Schwoerer and Jacque Whitsitt ” seem more philosophically aligned with the current council majority.

The six candidates are running at-large rather than by districts. The three who receive the most votes April 1 will take the seats being vacated.

This election will reshape the board. Four incumbents will remain on the council. Of those four, three are aligned closely in a slow-growth stance. They are council members Amy Capron, Chris Seldin and Gary Tennenbaum.

Incumbent Mayor Leroy Duroux is often at odds with the other board members and on the short end of votes. Duroux is running unopposed in this election. Duroux and Stevens served together for more than 10 years on previous Basalt councils and were allied closely.

Stevens, a partner and president of a construction company, said he and Duroux were effective in working with landowners and developers to achieve goals that benefited the entire community. That approach helped secure a site for the post office, allow construction of the bridge for the Midland Avenue extension and purchase the land that became Old Pond Park.

“All that stuff takes a lot of partnering, and I’m not sure that’s going on,” Stevens said. The current council majority seems to take a tougher stance. “They get these guys down and ask them for everything but the kitchen sink,” Stevens said.

Dillard, a member of the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission since 2005, already voiced displeasure with the current council in this young campaign. He said his approach to governing, as in life, is to offer carrots rather than sticks. He said he views that as a difference between himself and the three returning council members.

“I don’t believe you have to mandate everything under the sun,” he said.

Dillard was upset with the council majority regarding a key decision on a controversial issue last year. The planning commission advised the council to approve a master plan that established a flexible urban growth boundary, the area where the town can grow. They reasoned that flexibility could open doors on solutions to community problems that inflexibility would slam shut. The council majority overruled the planning commission and adopted a “tight” urban growth boundary.

Brandt was a losing candidate when Capron, Seldin and Tennenbaum were elected in 2006. The mood of the majority of voters at that time was for much stricter growth controls, Brandt said. Now, like Stevens, he senses that voters want more balance on the board.

Brandt said he has talked with Stevens and believes he is aligned more with him than with the three returning council members. They want to work with developers to create projects beneficial to the community.

“We recognize a certain level of growth and development is inevitable and healthy for the community,” Brandt said.

Dillard, a self-employed property manager, also said he has talked to Stevens and believes they share many views.

Despite their shared philosophies, the three candidates said they aren’t officially aligned or running as a slate. Stevens indicated he won’t attack the incumbents in the campaign.

“I don’t think they’re doing a bad job,” he said. “There’s no rush to condemn.”

Official alliances or not, Stevens acknowledged that in campaigns it is natural for candidates with similar views to gravitate toward one another. It might not be apparent to the casual observer, but people paying attention to politics sense it, he said. “You have to be a student of the game.”

While the other three candidates might be more philosophically in line with the incumbents, they also dismissed ideas of alliances.

Schwoerer said she supports preserving the urban growth boundary and believes there is a way to add affordable housing within the existing area. That matches the philosophy of the returning council members.

She noted the current board seems split on growth issues, with some supporting more growth and others opposed.

“I don’t want to say I side with one or the other,” said Schwoerer, a bank employee.

She stressed she would follow the desires and direction of the community on growth rather than another board member if elected to the council. She perceives that residents throughout the valley, not just Basalt, are concerned about the level of growth.

“Everyone seems to be concerned with growth that’s not responsible,” Schwoerer said. In Basalt that includes concern over the traffic that will be generated by Whole Foods Market and the other commercial and residential developments at Willits, she said.

Whitsitt, a former Basalt councilwoman and retiree, has been an advocate of slow, planned growth. She said governments throughout the valley need to be more “research-oriented” in determining the level of growth that can be accommodated.

Since leaving office in 2004, Whitsitt has spoken against numerous development proposals as a citizen, including the Whole Foods Market at Willits. She also supported sticking to an established urban growth boundary.

Despite her ongoing involvement in political issues, Whitsitt said she isn’t familiar enough with the positions of all the returning council members to say if she is aligned with them or not. She said last week that she “definitely likes” some of the positions Seldin has taken on growth.

McBride’s place in the political spectrum is yet to be determined. His voice mail on his cell phone said he is traveling out of the country and unavailable until March 11.