Basalt looks to citizens for help to get on track with 10-year vision plan
The Aspen Times
When you talk about a town master plan process, the reaction of most residents falls into one of two categories — either their eyes glaze over from boredom or they foam at the mouth with excitement at the prospect of getting involved.
Basalt town officials and their consultants hope to get as many people involved as possible in the town’s first full-fledged master plan update since 2007. They welcome the foamers, they hope to attract the glazers, and they’re seeking ways to interest everyone in between.
Heather Henry, principal with Connect One Design, a Basalt-based company hired to help with the update, said the process has some things going for it that should attract people.
First and foremast, the master plan will help determine how Basalt looks and feels, what kind of character is possesses and what it needs to do to achieve that vision. It won’t solely be a land use document that dictates how many square feet can be constructed here and what types of uses can go there.
“You can see how we’re really digging into a lot of different things,” said Henry.
The goal is to have an updated master plan by the end of the year. A website that will be used throughout the eight-month process went live Monday at http://www.letstalk.basalt.net.
The site will be used to conduct a survey, poll people as issues arise and allow participants to share stories on issues being contemplated.
In addition to the website, the first public open house will be held Thursday from 5:30–7:30 p.m. at The Temporary in Willits Town Center. Town residents are encouraged to come in any time during that window to talk to the consultants, learn more about the process and share their thoughts.
Connect One and another consulting firm, CTA Group, want to use the survey and direct communication with the public to find answers to a variety of questions.
“What are they enjoying about their town? What are they struggling with?” Henry said, citing examples of the issues that will be explored. “What are some of the strengths we want to capitalize on and how?”
The Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission will play a key role in the new plan. It must also be approved by the Town Council. Planning commission chairman Bill Maron said at a meeting last fall he wants the new master plan to set aspirations for the town. The last plan was too oriented toward land use mechanizations, he suggested.
“It helped us determine what we don’t want. It didn’t help us advance goals for what we do want,” Maron previously said.
The process could be facing some challenges. First, although the town hasn’t completely overhauled its master plan since 2007, it undertook an extensive land use planning process for the former Pan and Fork property and other land downtown in 2014-15 .The exercise, headed by former town manager Mike Scanlon, was intended to build some level of consensus over what could be built on the Pan and Fork site and avoid land-use political fighting. It didn’t work. The town appears evenly divided over whether the site should oriented to have more development or more park. The fight has stretched into its seventh year with no certain path for resolution.
Another challenge could be Basalt’s status as a bedroom community. An unrelated study called the Greater Roaring Fork Regional Housing Study found that 90 percent of Basalt’s 3,200 working residents commute to jobs outside of town while only abut 330 work and live in town.
Basalt businesses provide about 2,250 jobs, but 85 percent of the positions are filled by people commuting into town, according to the housing survey.
Meanwhile, housing prices continue to climb and make it difficult for the working class to gain a toehold in Basalt, as is the case elsewhere in the valley. The average existing house sales price is about $780,169 in Basalt. About 22 percent of Basalt’s total residential parcels are owned by people outside the region, the housing study said.
Henry said she didn’t see the high number of commuters as a problem. People can have pride in their community and be concerned about its direction even if they commute elsewhere for their job, she noted. They are still concerned about issues such as schools, community character, parks and opportunities for recreation, she said.
In addition to Thursday’s event, there will be open houses on May 9 at Basalt High School and May 30 at Rocky Mountain Institute. All times are 5:30–7:30 p.m. Participants can drop in at any time during that window. There is no central presentation.
The open houses are designed to be progressive, Henry said. So information collected at the first event will be used to dig deeper into issues for the second event.
All three open houses will have kids activities, and refreshments and light food will be provided. Information will be provided in English and Spanish.
From a “who cares” perspective, Henry said, the master plan is supposed to provide a road map for Basalt’s direction for the next 10 years. So any one who believes they will be part of the community for the foreseeable future will want to get involved. It’s intended to steer public-sector programs and decisions by providing a framework for regulatory tools such as zoning, annexation and other policies.
It provides a vision for what’s desired for current and long-term growth.
It provides developers and private landowners with a blueprint for community expectations.
“This is the vision of what the community really wants in these parcels,” Henry said.
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