Willits expansion clears vital hurdle
BASALT ” The Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission approved a proposal Tuesday night to add 85,000 square feet to Willits Town Center, already one of the largest developments approved in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Developer Michael Lipkin’s request to add 100 residences to the village core was endorsed by the commission with little debate about the extra density. The 5-0 vote was advisory. The request now goes to the Basalt Town Council.
Bernie Grauer was the only planning commission member to comment on the increase in density. “That’s the grand compromise with a hard urban growth boundary,” he said.
The commission and Town Council are finalizing a land-use master plan for the town that discourages sprawl and encourages higher densities within the area deemed appropriate for growth. But some people are asking how much growth is too much growth within the urban core. The Willits Town Center was already approved for 500,000 square feet of commercial and residential development before Lipkin sought the additional 85,000 square feet.
Grauer said the trade-off for increased density must be community benefits like affordable housing. Lipkin and his partner, Joseph Freed and Associates, proposed building 40 affordable housing units among the 100 new residences.
Grauer said that number was “grossly inadequate” since Lipkin’s project adds to traffic and migration of employees into the midvalley.
Planning commission chairman Bill Maron said Grauer’s point was “duly noted,” then moved the discussion along.
Lipkin sought the 100 additional units as part of his proposal to massage his earlier approval to accommodate a Whole Foods supermarket. Lipkin’s development team said the additional residences are needed to raise revenues for the infrastructure required by Whole Foods.
Former Basalt Town Councilwoman Anne Freedman urged the town staff and planning commission to make Lipkin prove that point.
“You need an independent analysis of the financials. You can’t just take somebody’s word for it,” Freedman said.
Instead, the planning commission concentrated for nearly three hours on issues like traffic mitigation, parking and signage for Whole Foods.
– On parking: The commission rejected Lipkin’s proposal to charge buyers of affordable housing up to $15,000 extra for a parking space. “I don’t think Basalt is an a la carte town,” said planning commission member Brian Dillard. People who buy a housing unit should get a parking space, he said. The other commissioners agreed.
Lipkin claimed he wanted to charge buyers of affordable housing extra for parking spots as an auto disincentive. The 60 free-market units in his project automatically came with parking.
– On traffic mitigation: The planning commission said it favors a roundabout over a stop light at the intersection of Willits Lane and East Valley Road. The intersection, which provides access to the El Jebel City Market and Willits Town Center, is expected to get significantly busier.
The commission also endorsed seeking ways to “calm” traffic on East Valley Road in front of Willits residences.
– On signage: Whole Foods won’t get an exemption from prior limits established in the Willits approvals. Whole Foods wanted 1,133 square feet of signage on four signs. Town staff estimated that City Market has only a fraction of that amount. The commission decided all businesses need to be treated equally.
The Town Council can accept or over rule the planning commission’s findings when it undertakes the Willits review.
Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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