Willits residential project advances to next round despite concerns by Basalt council
At least one councilman questions density of 155-unit proposal
The last piece of the Willits residential puzzle advanced to the next stage of review in a split decision Tuesday night by the Basalt Town Council.
The council voted 5-2 to approve what’s known as sketch plan for developer Michael Lipkin’s proposal to put 155 residences on 12 acres of open ground between Willits Lane and Willits Lake. The site is east of the Park Modern housing.
Despite the affirmative vote, some council members warned that the next, more detailed round of review might end with a different conclusion. Councilman Gary Tennenbaum said that is a risk Lipkin and his team must make.
Tennenbaum said he is concerned about the number of units and the project’s possible contribution to traffic in the Willits Lane area.
“I just have an issue with the density overall,” he said.
Lipkin’s property has been identified for varying amounts of development over the years, as explained in a memo to the council from the town planning staff. The 1999 Basalt Master Plan envisioned 85 units on the property. Lipkin applied for 176 units in 2002 but the development application didn’t get acted on. When the town updated its master plan in 2007, the number of potential units on the site increased to 155.
The current master plan, updated in 2020, identifies the property as suitable for “medium density residential” with an upper limit of 155 units. The planning staff’s memo didn’t identify the lower end of the range and it wasn’t disclosed in Tuesday’s discussion. Planning director Susan Philp said Wednesday night the lower range is 73 units.
Tennenbaum said it might be appropriate to look at a lower amount of units in the range, given the amount of development occurring in the midvalley. He and other council members said they would be eager to see results of a traffic study that shows the impacts of the development. The study results will be available in the next round of review, called a preliminary plan.
Lipkin said the density of the proposed development is slightly less than his adjacent Park Modern project.
“We do not think traffic is an issue at all,” he said.
The traffic study also will weigh into the big issue on the mind of the public. Numerous residents of the Park Modern luxury flats are concerned about access to the new development via Evans Drive, then in between two Park Modern buildings. They want an access created to the new development off Willits Lane. The planning staff and Planning and Zoning Commission recommended avoiding creation of another access onto Willits Lane because it would interfere with hikers and bikers on the popular Willits Lane Trail.
The access issue was not resolved Tuesday night.
Tennenbaum also said he wants to examine the affordable housing component of the project. Lipkin’s proposal calls for 111 free-market units that would be sold and 44 affordable housing units that would be rented.
Tennenbaum asked why none of the affordable housing would be offered for sale. Lipkin replied that buying affordable housing with an appreciation cap is a sour deal for buyers.
“It’s certainly not a good investment,” he said.
History in the upper Roaring Fork Valley shows it is also difficult for affordable housing complexes to raise the funds necessary for maintenance and upkeep, he said.
Mayor Bill Kane and council members Tennenbaum, Glenn Drummond, Elyse Hottel and Ryan Slack voted to approve the sketch plan. Councilmen David Knight and Bill Infante were opposed.
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