Whole Foods plan raises red flags
BASALT Getting approval for a store in Basalt isn’t going to be a bowl of cherries for Whole Foods Markets.A proposal by the developers of the Willits Town Center to increase the size of the project to accommodate the supermarket raised concerns with Basalt Town Council members Tuesday night. The council majority cited traffic and the danger of creating vacant second homes as their biggest worries.Developer Michael Lipkin and his partner, Joseph Freed and Associates, want to add 85,000 square feet of free-market residences to the project. As it stands, the Willits Town Center has 500,000 square feet of space for residences, retail shops, restaurants and offices.Lipkin’s development team told the Town Council and planning commission Tuesday night that the additional residences are needed to help create a critical mass of shoppers in the town core to support the supermarket. The extra development also is necessary to generate the funds to build an underground parking garage for residents and workers at Willits so surface lots can be preserved for shoppers. The developers sweetened the proposal by volunteering to add 28 affordable-housing units, boosting the total amount of housing aimed at workers to 109 units.Their application said the proposal for the specialty grocer hinges on approval of the additional residential space.The six council members present made it clear they want to work with the developers to make the plan work. Councilman Gary Tennenbaum, for example, said he is “no big fan” of City Market, another midvalley grocery store.Councilwoman Laurie Dows said, “I’m not about to walk away from this exciting idea.”But they also made it clear the proposal needs adjustments to earn approval. Councilman Chris Seldin said he could approve the density, as long as it was “the right type.” He said the 85,000 square feet of residential space would be second homes if it wasn’t restricted to local residents. If that is the case, he said, it won’t provide year-round shoppers for Whole Foods.Seldin said he wants the 85,000 square feet of residential space restricted for year-round residents rather than sold on the free market. The other council members agreed that the majority of any new housing needs to have restrictions.The other universal concern was traffic. The developers’ consultant believes traffic increases from Willits Town Center can be addressed with a stop light at Willits Lane and East Valley, where vehicles turn now to access City Market and the Willits General Store.Mayor Leroy Duroux said he would support that signal only as a last resort. The town has ordered the developer to study if a roundabout could replace the intersection.Despite the hurdles, Duroux said he believes the town and developers “could come to a fairly rapid resolution of some of their discrepancies.”Some speakers in the audience weren’t so sure. Former Basalt councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt said the proposal raises some red flags even though she is “a big fan of Whole Foods.”She suggested that the developers’ claim that the supermarket cannot be built without 85,000 square feet of additional free-market housing seems like blackmail.”This seemed a little bait and switchy to me,” Whitsitt said.She also said the traffic problems won’t easily be solved on Willits Lane since it is already “out of control.”Whitsitt urged the council to “walk” from the project – despite the popularity of Whole Foods – if the developer doesn’t produce an altered project to its liking.Former Basalt councilwoman Anne Freedman said the project was straying from what the board approved in 2001. The council she was part of approved a project that didn’t allow large commercial spaces or large parking lots. The project is already big enough without adding to it, she said.”There has to be limits on density to remain a small town,” Freedman said.Freedman said she knows opposing Whole Foods isn’t popular in town right now. Nevertheless, she said the price the town was being asked to pay to accommodate the supermarket was too great. She said there are plenty of other specialty food outlets in the midvalley now.”We are not starving to death in this area,” Freedman said. “We will do just fine without a Whole Foods.”Affordable housing advocate Jay Leavitt urged the council to press the developers for greater numbers of affordable housing than currently contemplated. Allowing them to boost the amount of free market housing by 65 units and the amount of affordable housing by 28 units won’t provide a big enough benefit to the community, he said.”We need affordable housing in great big numbers,” Leavitt said.The council and planning commission only scratched the surface of the application Tuesday. The planning commission will dive into details beginning June 19.
So, when exactly will a Whole Foods Market open in Basalt?It is either in late 2008 or early 2010, depending on the source of information.Developer Michael Lipkin told Basalt town officials Tuesday night that he has a lease with Whole Foods that requires him to turn over a completed 44,000-square-foot space at the Willits Town Center on Nov. 1, 2008.But a May 8 announcement by Whole Foods about the new store said, “The Basalt store is expected to open by early 2010 and should provide approximately 150 local jobs.”The Aspen Times asked a marketing official with Whole Foods to clarify the opening date at the time of the announcement. She checked with other officials and confirmed the early 2010 opening. She said it typically takes 30 months from ground-breaking to open a store for the chain. Ground-breaking is anticipated in late summer 2007.Lipkin said Tuesday night that he hasn’t dealt with marketing officials, so he couldn’t explain the discrepancy. The Whole Foods representatives he dealt with anticipated an opening in fall 2008, he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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