Town, developers fume over Sopris Meadows gas station
Relations between the Basalt Town Council and developers of the Sopris Meadows project have become so strained that they can’t even agree on the design of a gas station.
The property owners want to build a 4,000-square-foot gas station and convenience store just off Highway 82, across Willits Lane from the El Jebel City Market.
Since they have vowed not to open any “big box” retailers, they claim they need the convenience store to serve as an anchor that draws people into the Sopris Meadows commercial core. They are proposing a commercial center that would be laid out in traditional downtown grid style rather than strip mall fashion.
Architect and Sopris Meadows partner Michael Lipkin said the convenience store would look similar to the handsome brick bank building he and his partners developed right across Willits Lane.
“It’s not what we consider gas station architecture,” said Lipkin, noting there is no flat roof, plastic canopies or blaring neon signs.
But the Basalt town staff criticized the design for encouraging highway and auto-oriented development. The 4,000-square-foot building would sit among a sea of asphalt in a 40,000-square-foot lot.
A staff memo said even the gas station should be consistent with the pedestrian-friendly design the developers have agreed to in the commercial core.
It’s pretty but …
The four council members who attended a public hearing on Sopris Meadows Wednesday night agreed the design needed to change to reflect the staff’s concerns. Councilman Steve Solomon clearly became agitated when Lipkin and the developers’ attorney, Herb Klein of Aspen, kept stressing the attractive design of the structure.
“We don’t have a gas station in the valley that looks as good as this one,” Solomon acknowledged in a somewhat sarcastic tone. But the overall design for that lot doesn’t work well with the grid system and pedestrian orientation of the rest of the commercial core, he said.
Lipkin countered that the asphalt was necessary around the building for vehicle circulation and trucks that are delivering gas and supplies. The idea isn’t to provide a sea of parking along the highway, he said.
“If there’s a better way to do it, we’d like to know what it is,” he said.
Klein claimed that a gas station is an allowed use under the zoning. What the town is attempting to do is keep developers from building a gas station under the guise of design incompatibility.
He charged that the developers hadn’t heard anything about problems with the design until about one week ago. He suggested that the staff came up with technical reasons to oppose the idea after some council members made it clear they don’t want a gas station at that site.
Like Lipkin, Klein asked the board what design alterations could be made to make the gas station acceptable.
Solomon shot back that he was a silversmith and an elected official, not an architect. “We won’t design it for you,” he said.
Solomon further noted that the town staff’s role isn’t to help the developers come up with a design that works. Their role is to review the proposal that’s submitted using town guidelines, then share their findings.
The board ultimately voted to support the staff’s findings that the design failed to comply with guidelines.
While that particular dispute was over a gas station, the real issue is whether the two sides can reconcile their differences without going to court.
Lipkin and his partners, Clay Crossland and Paul Adams of Basalt, already have approvals in hand to build 423 residences of various types. Construction on the single-family homes, townhouses and apartments is well under way.
The developers have also received two of three rounds of approvals necessary for their commercial center. Those previous approvals allow for up to 456,000 square feet of retail shops, offices and restaurants.
They have been trying to earn final approvals since early summer 1998, but relations with some town officials have been steadily deteriorating.
Klein has warned the town in writing that the council cannot take away the prior approvals for the amount of commercial space, but only review design criteria and other details in the final review.
The town board has held numerous private sessions with their attorney on how they can handle the final review. Wednesday’s hearing demonstrated the board might only be willing to grant approval with conditions the developers find unacceptable.
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