Willits plan has board at odds | AspenTimes.com

Willits plan has board at odds

The developers of a project that’s crawled through Basalt’s review process for four years have been ordered to produce more studies before the Town Council contemplates final approval.

The council majority decided last week that it must see more information on the economic and traffic consequences of the Willits project, formerly known as Sopris Meadows.

The decision was made during a closed session that more than one Basalt official described as a political brawl. The seven-member council is apparently divided over how to approach final review of Willits.

The closed session was held for the stated purpose of collecting legal advice from town attorney Jody Edwards.

In a motion approved in a public vote after that closed meeting, the council majority directed the staff to inform the Willits applicants about the “tenor” of the board, according to the minutes.

Town Manager Tom Baker explained that the board majority was concerned about the traffic that Willits could generate and the economic implications it could have on downtown Basalt businesses. @ATD Sub heds:Basalt’s biggest project

The town board wants updated information on traffic projections and a more complete economic impact study, Baker said.

Neither property owner Michael Lipkin nor his attorney, Herb Klein of Aspen, could be reached for comment about the town’s demands for additional studies. Both men were on vacation this week.

Willits is proving controversial because it’s the biggest in Basalt’s history and one of the largest ever proposed in the midvalley. The property is located just upvalley from the El Jebel City Market.

More than 400 single-family homes and multifamily residences have already been approved on the site. The amount of commercial square footage and affordable housing remains under debate.

Lipkin and his development partners, Clay Crossland and Paul Adams, have preliminary approvals for 458,000 square feet of commercial space – or an amount roughly nine times larger than the El Jebel City Market.

Some Basalt officials have requested that residences be mixed in on the top of the commercial buildings, boosting potential square footage above 600,000.

New faces, new concerns

Although Basalt officials have given two of three approvals required by the project, the current board majority has balked at granting the third and final approval. Three members have joined the board after the first two approvals were granted.

The haggling over the final approvals started soon after Lipkin turned in an application in June 1998. The Basalt board ruled earlier this year that the final proposal had changed too much from the earlier proposal.

Lipkin and his partners reworked and resubmitted the plan. Now they have discovered they must perform more studies.

Oddly enough, the public has hardly weighed in on the Willits project despite implications for the entire valley. It hasn’t generated nearly the public scrutiny, for example, as the initial application for the Sanders Ranch project between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

The first Sanders Ranch application was for 502 housing units and 708,000 square feet of commercial space, compared to the Willits application for 438 residences and roughly 458,000 square feet of commercial space.

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