Basalt council approves Skico housing, frees funds for arts center at Willits
The Aspen Times
SKICO PROJECT BY THE NUMBERS
Location: Willits Town Center
Parking: 46 off-street units built by Skico; 35 on-street units leased from the town
Size: Four-story, 53,000 square feet
Bonus: 8 units will be available for workers outside Skico with priority for childcare workers
Two decisions by the Basalt Town Council will have a major impact on advancing the build-out of Willits Town Center.
The council granted the second and final approval needed for an affordable-housing project by Aspen Skiing Co. that will provide 150 bedrooms.
The council also approved a resolution that clears a path for a group called The Arts Campus at Willits to access nearly $1 million in funds restricted for construction of an arts center.
Both votes passed by 4-2 margins, though the make-up was different.
Skico applied to build 43 affordable-housing units on vacant land at Willits that was already approved for a mix of commercial and residential uses. If it had been built as approved, it would have been high-end residences. Instead, Skico will have 35 units for its employees and eight units with deed-restricted rents for workers outside the company. Workers in child care will have first priority to those eight units.
The council finalized approval of Skico’s project with little discussion. All of the debate and negotiations occurred in prior meetings and the council approved the project in a first reading two weeks ago. The proposal was altered a couple of times by Skico in response to council comments.
“Over the last six months we’ve stretched and bent and twisted to fill as many community needs as possible,” said Philip Jeffreys, Skico project manager.
Council members Bill Infante, Katie Schwoerer, Gary Tennenbaum and Jennifer Riffle approved the project. Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and Councilman Ryan Slack were opposed.
In prior comments, the majority said Skico’s project “checked off” several qualities sought in the town’s master plan — with transit-oriented development as a prime benefit. The site for Skico’s housing is two blocks from a major bus stop for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.
Skico will make the project all-electric so that renewable energy sources are a major part of powering the 53,000-square-foot structure.
“We’ve designed the building such that it will be carbon-neutral in the future,” Jeffreys wrote to the council. “This approach is more expensive up front, with increased operational costs, but is the right thing to do for our community and our planet and aligns with our company values. We must start heating our buildings with electricity — which can be made renewable — rather than gas, which can’t.”
Neighborhood opposition during the debate was partially focused on parking. Some residents said Willits is already facing a parking shortage that will become worse with Skico’s project. Skico will build 46 off-site parking spaces. It received a green light to use 35 on-street spaces exclusively. Skico will pay $20,000 annually for use of the public spaces. The funds will go toward parking management and enforcement in broader Willits Town Center.
The council’s second major decision Tuesday night will help construction of an arts center this year. TACAW lost its lease for a venue in Willits called The Temporary earlier this year. The TACAW board of directors approved a phased plan to pursue construction of its long-envisioned permanent arts center.
“It is TACAW’s intent to continue with the momentum and community interest that was generated by The Temporary and proceed with building The Contemporary,” Town Manager Ryan Mahoney wrote to the council. “This would be a $4.9 million structure, including tenant finishes. They would like to begin building as soon as they can with the goal of starting construction this year.”
To build the arts center, the proponents are collecting financial commitments, securing a construction loan from Alpine Bank and tapping a real estate transfer assessment for sales in Willits. The town and original Willits developer created that fund specifically to promote the arts.
Mahoney said the fund balance was $942,179 at the end of last year.
TACAW envisions a phased, 10,000-square-foot center. Ryan Honey, executive director of TACAW, said the organization has secured more than $1 million in cash and pledges and secured a $2.5 million loan for construction, if needed. The release of the real estate transfer assessment funds will allow it to pursue construction this fall, he said.
“I think this is a critically important project,” Infante said. “You guys have demonstrated the importance of the arts to our town.”
Infante, Whitsitt, Slack and Tennenbaum approved the resolution clearing the path for release of the real estate transfer assessment funds, as long as specific conditions are met. Schwoerer and Riffle were opposed because they wanted additional financial information from TACAW.
“My only suggestion would be to not only liberate the RETA, which is for the very specific purpose of supporting TACAW, but making other funds available,” Infante said.
Skico’s housing and the arts center are two of the last major missing pieces at Willits, which was approved in the early 2000s. The Steadman Clinic sports medicine and orthopedic center has purchased vacant land adjacent to Skico’s parcel. Construction of high-end residences has started west of Mezzaluna restaurant on one of the other last remaining vacant spaces.
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