Willits developer Lipkin apologizes, presses case for expansion of project | AspenTimes.com

Willits developer Lipkin apologizes, presses case for expansion of project

Scott Condon
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

BASALT Willits Town Center developer Michael Lipkin last night faced the Basalt Town Council for the first time since June and apologized for an earlier “misrepresenation” he made about his project.Lipkin told the board in the previous encounter that Whole Foods supermarket needed him to add 100 residences to his project to justify its decision to open in a market as small as the Roaring Fork Valley. Whole Foods officials later disputed the claim. Lipkin apologized to town officials by letter earlier this summer. He added a personal apology Tuesday. He has said the misrepresentation was a result of a misunderstanding he had with Whole Foods.The issue didn’t spur lengthy discussion as the council started its review for 100 new residences in the Willits Town Center. Only Councilman Chris Seldin referred to the misrepresentation.As elected officials in the town, Seldin said, the council must be convinced that Lipkin’s proposal provides enough benefits to warrant approval – and it must convince a skeptical public. Lipkin’s responsibility is to show that the proposal for 100 units is “motivated truly by need and not by greed,” Seldin said.Lipkin received approval six years ago for 500,000 square feet of development in the Willits Town Center, across Willits Lane from the El Jebel City Market. He can build 362,000 square feet of space for retail shops, restaurants and offices.

Lipkin also has approvals to build 138,000 square feet of residential space in the village center.Lipkin and his partner, Joseph Freed and Associates of Chicago, scored a coup in May when they landed Whole Foods, a natural grocery chain, as a tenant. The supermarket will occupy space already approved.Lipkin and his partner now are attempting to amend their approvals to accommodate Whole Foods better and to add residences that the developers claim are necessary to make the project more economically viable. For example, Lipkin said Whole Foods requires a 98-space underground parking garage. He claimed he needs extra revenues from the development to cover the additional expenses. The developers want to add 60 free-market condos and lofts that would add 78,500 square feet to the project. They also proposed building 21 deed-restricted affordable housing units and 19 units reserved for full-time residents of the valley. The resident-occupied units wouldn’t have any appreciation caps or limits on the buyers’ incomes and assets so they would be similar to free-market units.Eight speakers from neighborhoods near Willits Town Center raised concerns about increased traffic and urged the council to weigh the proposal for extra density carefully. They said traffic flow must be tackled before Lipkin gets a green light.Willits resident Amiee Beazley also said she wants proof that Lipkin and his partner need more density to make the project economically viable.

“As a resident, I might want to be convinced of it,” Beazley said. “It might make it easier to swallow.”Willits resident Jan Garrett said there seems to be an assumption that everyone in the midvalley is “jumping up and down” over the addition of Whole Foods. She said she questions “if we really need another huge supermarket.”Garrett said the store will increase traffic congestion, in part because the upscale market will attract shoppers from Aspen.”It’s very pricey,” she said of Whole Foods. “Some people call it Whole Paycheck.”Whole Foods has signed a lease to open in Willits as long as the developers turn over the building shell by June 1, 2009, for a tenant finish of the interior or if the developers at least start construction by June 1, 2008, according to information Lipkin supplied to the town. If those conditions aren’t met, Whole Foods can terminate the lease.It’s doubtful Lipkin would let that happen despite how the council votes on his amended application. Landing an anchor tenants makes the rest of the town center more attractive.

The council is tentatively scheduled to take the first of two necessary votes on the project in two weeks, on Sept. 25. If that vote takes place, there would be a second and final vote Oct. 9.The council members gave no firm indication Tuesday on how they intend to vote. Several said they want transportation improvements planned and funding settled before they grant approval. The amount of affordable housing in the mix also emerged as a top issue for future debate.Increasing density in a neighborhood that is already dense didn’t appear to concern council members. “This is a town center and I think density should happen there,” said Mayor Leroy Duroux.The Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission previously recommended approval of the application.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com