Willits developers shopping for density
BASALT The developers of the Willits project in Basalt are sticking to claims that they need additional residences to make it economically feasible to accommodate a Whole Foods supermarket.Michael Lipkin and his partner, Joseph Freed and Associates, have applied to add 100 residences to the Willits core. They already have approvals for 500,000 square feet of residential and commercial space.Lipkin’s request to increase density sparked controversy in May. He told Basalt officials verbally and in writing that Whole Foods “required” additional residences as part of its agreement to build a 44,000-square-foot supermarket in Willits.Whole Foods Market Regional President Will Paradise denied the claim. He said Whole Foods has signed a contract to build in Willits – regardless of whether more residences are built.Lipkin apologized for what he labeled miscommunication and “an honest mistake.”In their latest correspondence with the town government, the Willits developers dropped the claim that Whole Foods wants the houses but stuck to the claim that more houses are necessary to make the project work.”The increased density helps make the Willits Town Center vital and active 24 hours a day and viable as a retail location,” said a July 10 memo to the town from Bob Blanchard, a land-use planning consultant for Willits.Additional housing “makes the high cost of below grade parking realistic,” Blanchard wrote. “Below grade residential parking is critical to preserving most of the on-street parking for retail customers.”Construction of an underground parking garage would be part of the supermarket project. The developers would build additional parking for the grocery store on the surface.More affordable unitsTo make their proposal more attractive, the Willits developers reduced the number of free-market units and increased the affordable housing in their plan.The number of condominiums and lofts for sale at market prices was reduced from 65 to 60, according to Blanchard’s memo. The 85,000 square feet of space once dedicated to the free market units will now include five affordable housing units.The amount of affordable housing would increase from 19 to 40 units.Blanchard’s memo stressed that the developers were going well beyond Basalt code requirements for affordable housing. Approval of 85,000 square feet of residential space would require construction of 16 affordable housing units under the code, Blanchard wrote.The developers said their plan dovetails with the Basalt Town Council’s goal to increase the density in the town’s core areas and avoid sprawl.Review postponed until AugustThe town government’s review of the Willits expansion snagged on technical issues. The development team and town are studying how to improve Willits Lane to handle the increased traffic anticipated as the commercial area evolves. A traffic signal or roundabout will be necessary at Willits Lane and East Valley Road, officials said.The Basalt planning commission was scheduled to review the Willits Town Center expansion Tuesday evening. The hearing was postponed until Aug. 7 to give the town staff time to review materials Lipkin and his partner submitted, according to Basalt planning director Susan Philp.Blanchard’s memo urged a speedy review after noting that the proposal provides numerous community benefits in addition to affordable housing. Those public benefits include a space for a performing arts center, a transit plaza, and a real estate transfer assessment that will raise revenues for public projects and opportunities for small businesses, Blanchard’s memo said.The big plum of the proposal is Whole Foods. Paradise said his company decided to locate in Willits because high demand for the natural food store’s products already exist in the valley.Whole Foods is expected to open in late 2009 or early 2010.”Approval of this application will allow us to move forward with the Specialty Grocer that has been the most frequent requested user at Willits from the entire Roaring Fork Valley community,” said Blanchard’s letter to the town.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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