Battle for Whole Foods creates varied opinions

Scott Condon
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

BASALT ” There is a battle going on for the hearts, minds and bellies of midvalley residents.

Proponents and critics of a proposed Whole Foods grocery store at the Willits Town Center are trying to rally their supporters to Tuesday’s Basalt Town Council meeting. The council will consider whether to grant the approvals necessary to build a 44,000-square-foot market.

The developers of Willits Town Center have held community focus groups for the last six weeks to answer questions and organize support. They are collecting signatures for a letter of support that will be presented to the council.

Critics also are trying to rally people. The leader of that effort, Basaltine Jim Paussa, picked his words carefully in a “Willits newsletter” circulated among approximately 80 people last weekend.

“I’m not against Whole Foods,” Paussa wrote. “I’m for an honest process. I believe it is better to make Whole Foods part of Basalt, not make Basalt part of Whole Foods.”

Paussa said his beef with the grocery store debate is that the developers have made it too simple. They have boiled the issue down to, “Do you want Whole Foods ” yes or no?”

The debate isn’t that easy, or at least it shouldn’t be, Paussa argued. He wants people to look at the whole picture. The decision should be made on the basis of how well the store matches the community’s goals, and how it will affect traffic and other infrastructure.

The Basalt Town Council is scheduled to discuss Whole Foods at 6:25 p.m. at Town Hall.

The Basalt planning staff recommended approval for the proposal “if the Council is comfortable,” according to a staff memo. The planners prepared an approval document that has 13 conditions for approval and 24 pages of exhibits that cover everything from construction of affordable housing, to steps needed to improve traffic circulation.

At the heart of the matter is whether the developer should be allowed to tweak earlier approvals, to build a space big enough to accommodate Whole Foods, a renowned purveyor of natural and organic foods.

The original Willits owners, led by Michael Lipkin, secured approvals in December 2000 that allowed them to construct a store with a footprint no larger than 27,500 square feet. Another 8,500 square feet could be added to accommodate a specialty foods store, although there are different interpretations on whether that additional square footage would have to be on a second floor.

Joseph Freed and Associates, the Chicago-based development firm that bought Willits Town Center from Lipkin and his partners, is seeking approval to build a 44,000-square-foot space for Whole Foods. The request wouldn’t add to the overall size of the project, it would just shift the extra space from elsewhere, the developers and town officials agree.

Representatives of Joseph Freed and Associates are telling supporters that Whole Foods can and will walk away from their contract if 44,000 square feet and associated parking aren’t approved.

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