Basalt council sticks to growth plan
BASALT A public meeting intended to establish Basalt’s general growth policies for the next five to 10 years became a raucous referendum Wednesday on a single development proposal.About 25 people temporarily took over the meeting and demanded the council adopt a land-use master plan that would accommodate a project developer David Fiore has proposed.Fiore wants to team with Archdiocesan Housing, a division of Catholic Charities in Denver, to build 60 apartments for low-income residents near Basalt High School. Fiore and his other partners would build an additional 55 residences, with at least half being deed-restricted for local workers.The fate of Fiore’s Sopris Chase project has been on hold while Basalt officials update the land-use master plan – a document that will guide the types, densities and locations of growth for several years. The current plan makes it tough for Fiore to gain approval because his land is outside Basalt’s urban growth boundary – an area defined as appropriate for growth.Several speakers spoke in favor of the project because Fiore will provide replacement housing for the 150 tenants of the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park. The trailer park, which Fiore owns, has been identified as being at high risk for catastrophic flooding. One of Basalt’s top priorities is to relocate the residents.Debra Farrell, a longtime resident of the trailer park, said residents would get a chance to relocate and the site could be redeveloped as a park at the entrance to downtown.”How can this not be a win-win situation?” she asked, on the verge of tears.
Basalt businessman Ted Lupe questioned whether the council supports the relocation for public safety or just pays it lip service.”They have a proposal that is a solution to the problems you have,” Lupe said. “You have been deaf or have gone on in a different direction.”Other speakers supported Fiore’s project as a way to provide housing for young people who grow up in the valley but cannot return after college because of the high cost of living.As tension rose, Basalt businesswoman Hedy Longworth further inflamed passions by chiding the council for not entering a dialogue about Sopris Chase.Basalt resident Paul Mayer added, “Is it just a formality to have us here?”Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux did nothing to quell the debate. Basalt officials were speechless and appeared intimidated until the town government’s contract attorney, Tom Smith, took charge.”It’s starting to sound like some people want to turn this into a free-for-all,” Smith said. Proper procedure, he said, was to give the public a chance to comment – without grilling the elected officials – then let the board members discuss issues and present their views.At one point, Councilman Glenn Rappaport told the crowd, “We’re not a group of people that has an agenda against another group of people.”Once order was restored, the council engaged in a spirited debate with the planning commission over whether the land-use master plan should set a rigid or flexible urban growth boundary – an area defined as suitable for growth. After three hours of debate, the council gave preliminary endorsement of the master plan, including the rigid urban-growth boundary that excludes Sopris Chase.
Duroux argued that the boundary should be flexible so the town government could review exemplary projects that help solve some big issues facing Basalt.”I can’t support a solid urban growth boundary,” Duroux said.The issue had already been decided once. In May, the council and planning commission had the same debate. The planning commission argued for a “flexible” urban-growth boundary to allow the town to review special projects proposed on the town fringe. The council majority voted 5-1 for a solid boundary on grounds that it would give developers definitive direction and preserve a rural buffer around town.The planning commission took that direction and put numerous hours into the crafting of the master plan, according to planning commissioner member Bernie Grauer. He noted that it addresses much more than land use. It also outlines how the town wants to deal with trails and transportation issues, for example.Planning commission members acknowledged that they made a compromise on the flexible or rigid urban-growth boundary, but they said they approved a document that made them proud.
Councilman Chris Seldin said Basalt is facing tremendous growth pressure and that the board is often forced to react to developers’ proposals. A master plan helps the board set a template for growth.”This can help get us on track,” he said. “We’ve given it a lot of thought over two years.”He warned that allowing a flexible urban-growth boundary would only besiege the town with more development applications.”There’s always going to be someone who comes in and has a project that you can’t turn down,” he said.Rappaport said the plan promotes higher density within the core and discourages sprawl.Council members Seldin, Rappaport, Gary Tennenbaum, Amy Capron and Laurie Dows supported the master plan as proposed. Councilman Mark Kittle didn’t attend the meeting because of work issues.After two years and nearly $200,000, by the mayor’s estimate, the town is poised to finalize the master plan July 31.Lost in the debate over Sopris Chase was the fact that the land-use master plan doesn’t equate to a strict growth-control plan. It establishes an annual growth rate goal of 4.8 percent.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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