Whole Foods contradicts developer
BASALT Developer Michael Lipkin’s claim that an additional 85,000 square feet of residential space is “required” by Whole Foods Market as a condition of locating at Willits Town Center is wrong, a supermarket representative said Wednesday.Whole Foods has never requested the extra residential space that Lipkin is seeking from the Basalt town government, said Cathy Cochran-Lewis, marketing director for Whole Foods Market’s Rocky Mountain Region.Whole Foods has already “signed on the dotted line” of a lease, Cochran-Lewis said. “We’re committed to building, so there are no enticements needed,” she said.Lipkin and his partners at Willits, Joseph Freed and Associates, submitted an application to Basalt this spring seeking modifications that allow construction of a 44,000-square-foot grocery store. In addition, they applied to add 85,000 square feet of free-market residential space to the project.The Willits Town Center was approved in 2001, with 500,000 square feet of space for residences, retail shops, restaurants and offices in a high-density village core. The developers are now applying to add 65 high-end residences.In that application and in person at a joint meeting of the Basalt Town Council and planning commission Tuesday night, Lipkin said the additional residential space was necessary for two reasons: first, to raise revenues for infrastructure for the grocery store, such as underground parking; second, to add to the customer base because the Roaring Fork Valley’s population is lower than what Whole Foods typically targets.”The additional density is not only critical to the overall success of the Willits Town Center, but it is also a requirement of the specialty grocer given the non-conforming demographics of the Valley,” the developers’ application claimed.The application continued by stressing that the additional residential space was “tied directly to the willingness of this specialty grocery to locate in Basalt.”Cochran-Lewis’ comments contradicted those claims.”We have signed a lease and are committed to building in Basalt,” she said. After examining the lease and consulting with upper level company officials in the region, Cochran-Lewis said there was no stipulation with the developer for the additional residences.Lipkin couldn’t explain the discrepancy between his understanding of discussions with Whole Foods representatives and what Cochran-Lewis conveyed.”I’ve tried to approach this project with integrity,” Lipkin said. “I don’t understand where the breakdown in communication is.”He declined further comment but said he would try to learn more about the miscommunication Thursday.There appeared to be a second discrepancy between information to the Basalt boards on Tuesday night and what Whole Foods said Wednesday.Lipkin pressed the council and planning commission for a quick decision on his application because he must complete construction of space for the store in November 2008. He wants to break ground this summer.Cochran-Lewis said the lease sets a deadline of June 1, 2009, for the developer to turn over the space.”That is the outside, latest date,” Cochran-Lewis said. “However, once we have the space, we will then do our own build-out in order to equip the store.”The projected opening for the Basalt supermarket remains early 2010, she said.Basalt officials reacted cautiously to word that Whole Foods wasn’t requiring the additional residential space as a condition for opening in Basalt.”Certainly the applicant gave the impression that Whole Foods had an expectation of increased residential square footage in the Willits Town Center development,” said Basalt Councilman Chris Seldin. “I will be very disappointed if we were misled. The applicant should be given the opportunity to explain this apparent discrepancy.”Planning commission member Bernie Grauer said he would assume there was a misunderstanding on Lipkin’s part. “I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.”Grauer said it was a “weak argument” that 65 additional units would influence the decision of a supermarket that depends on hundreds of customers. “I think he overplayed his hand by indicating this was really coming from Whole Foods,” Grauer said.The review of the application will continue June 19.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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