Editorial: Basalt should revamp land use review process for fairness, efficiency | AspenTimes.com

Editorial: Basalt should revamp land use review process for fairness, efficiency

Basalt could use some revisions to its land use review process to make it more fair to applicants and efficient for the town.

Over the years, the review process has become increasingly complex. It’s served the growing town well in some ways but failed in others. As it stands, someone with an idea — be it a large, well-financed development firm or an individual of modest means — must undertake numerous studies before they even test the waters in the council chambers.

The process has contributed to one of Basalt’s biggest controversies — the ongoing battle over the use of the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp.’s property at the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park. Developer Jim DeFrancia of Lowe Enterprises’ office in Aspen said he wouldn’t spend an estimated $60,000 to $70,000 necessary to submit an application for a condominium-hotel, a restaurant and associated retail uses because he isn’t confident of the board’s position.

Lowe let its option to buy the property expire this fall, so the controversy lives on. Why not create a simpler process where Lowe could present its basic, bare-bones idea to gauge the council’s interest?

More recently, Brent and Roxanne Lough spent almost a year working on a proposal for a high-end RV park and equally high quality tiny-home rental cabins on property they are buying west of the Basalt post office. The Loughs spent tens of thousands of dollars on an engineer and attorney as well as consultants to perform traffic and wetlands studies. The council denied their application Tuesday before the traffic study was even a consideration. So why did the Loughs have to hire a consultant to analyze traffic before other threshold issues were addressed?

Basalt should overhaul its system so the first step in the review process is purely conceptual — does the council feel an application is worth considering at the numbers proposed and does it meet the general planning principals of the town? If the answer is no, the applicant can pack up its toys and go home. If the answer is yes, the applicant can spend the money necessary for details on traffic, environmentally sensitive areas and the like. The review process would remain just as thorough, but the technical studies would come later in the process.

There is no vested approval in the first round of approval so it wouldn’t lead to rampant development. Instead it would allow applicants to pitch a general concept without spending a small fortunate to get in the door.