October 20, 2007
At the Oct. 9 meeting at the Basalt Town Hall, the Willits Town Center developers alleged that their request for approval of a 44,000-square-foot Whole Foods grocery store would have no impact on traffic in the midvalley area. They characterized this store, roughly three-quarters the size of the El Jebel City Market, as a “local, specialty store whose customers would either walk from the adjoining neighborhood or arrive by bus.”
The argument has no merit. In fact, upon further review, the impacts are even greater than anticipated since the developers saw fit to understate the size and scope of their Whole Foods proposal. It has now been determined that the Whole Foods grocery store in question would actually be over 51,000 square feet ” not the 44,000 square feet represented to the public by the developer at the meeting. Under this scenario, Whole Foods would be nearly 90 percent of the size of the 58,000-square-foot adjacent City Market. The developer also now states that a Whole Foods grocery would require an additional 298 parking spaces ” 200 above ground and 98 below ground ” beyond the original site approvals.
Clearly, there is nothing “local” about a “chain” grocer of this magnitude, based out of Texas, opening up shop in the midvalley. Far from local, this store represents an attempt by the developers to insert a big box “regional” store into their commercial core. In an obvious “oops moment,” one of the development representatives admitted that fact ” stating that Whole Foods would draw customers from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. How many of these regional customers would be walk-ups? And, lest we forget, this is a grocery store! How many people walk to the store when they go shopping for groceries? And, if all the customers are walk-ups, why does the developer need an additional 298 parking spaces? As far as riding the bus, the same points apply ” grocery shopping and bus transportation do not work well together. It also bears mentioning that RFTA does not have the human capital to add more service to the midvalley. As a prime example, RFTA is struggling to provide service it committed to for the employee housing development at Burlingame outside Aspen.
The Willits Town Center developers already have approval for 500,000 square feet of development (actually, it is at least 573,000 ” but 73,000 square feet of deed-restricted housing does not count for some reason) for their project. They want the Basalt board of trustees to grant them approval for an additional 150,000 square feet and are using Whole Foods as the bait! The developer’s charge that they cannot make their project work without this 150,000-square-foot expansion is false. When pressed on this issue by the board at the Oct. 9 meeting, the developers were unable to support their claim for expansion of the project. In fact, if anything, the developers muddied the waters by flip-flopping on the alleged significance of Whole Foods in their request. This was not the first (or last?) time the developer has been less than forthcoming about the reasons for requesting additional square footage at Willits Town Center. It appears as though we have a situation of “greed” being proposed as “need”!
Finally, at the Oct. 9 Basalt Town Hall meeting, the citizens of Basalt were given the opportunity to voice their opinion about the developers’ request for an additional 150,000 square feet at the Willits Town Center. The citizens spoke overwhelmingly in favor of denying the developers’ request for expansion of this project. In addition, approximately 30 e-mails were sent to the Basalt board of trustees with the same result ” overwhelmingly in favor of denying the request for expansion. The citizens have spoken and the answer is “no”! It is now the job of Basalt’s elected officials to honor the will of the people.
At the next meeting on Oct. 23, the Basalt board of trustees must simply tell the Willits Town Center developers that they are not going to be held hostage by the developer’s unsubstantiated claims that they need more space in order for their project to succeed. The board has granted the developer approval for 573,000 square feet of development (including the mystery deed-restricted 73,000 square feet) and that is all they are going to get. In direct response to the developer’s request for more, the answer is clear ” what part of “no” do you not understand?
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