Locals press for design review in Basalt after ‘unhandsome’ Willits buildings
The latest addition to the Willits area has spurred particular scrutiny for its “unhandsome” architecture.
The Aspen Times
Basalt officials are being urged by some area residents to prevent “unhandsome” architecture from continuing at Willits Town Center.
Design has been a hot topic since the first buildings emerged from the ground in the mid-2000s, but the latest addition to the development has spurred particular scrutiny. The One 10 Harris apartment complex — featuring a throwback brick and metal look — was constructed adjacent to the Willits Lane roundabout. Additional small commercial buildings are being added on the east side.
Shopworks Architects of North Denver designed the One 10 Harris apartment complex. Lipkin Warner Architects of Basalt designed most of the rest of the complex.
At a Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Tuesday night for Aspen Skiing Co.’s proposed affordable-housing building, design emerged as a top issue. Emma resident Cathy Markle urged the commission to review the design to avoid a repeat of One 10 Harris.
“There’s been a lot of criticism of the latest building at the roundabout,” Markle said. “I agree with that. It’s not a handsome building.”
The planning commission can ensure that additional “unhandsome” buildings don’t get constructed, she said. Willits is “singularly flat-roofed,” which gives it a homogenous look, she suggested.
Skico already overhauled the look of its building in response to comments at a planning commission meeting April 16. Commission member Gino Rossetti called the initial proposal a “dark and somber” building and likened it to a “big black box.”
Commission Chairman Bill Maron also urged Skico to reconsider the look and materials, noting that the building had a “Lord Voldemort look.”
Both Rossetti and Maron are architects.
Skico had been working with Harry Teague Architects on the original design. The firm didn’t have time for a quick redesign, so Skico hired Lipkin Warner Architects for the overhaul, according to Skico project manager Philip Jeffreys. The new design is brighter, featuring brick with horizontal cement board on the lower two-thirds and metal on the upper third.
Rossetti and Maron said they liked Skico’s building better after the redesign.
“I like the colors,” Maron said. “We’re no longer in Darth Vader territory.”
While planning commission members aren’t shy about commenting on materials, don’t expect them to weigh in on architecture, Maron explained the day after the meeting.
“The town has always shied away from design review per se,” Maron said. “My personal feeling has always been that in Basalt the last thing we need is another layer of project review.”
Basalt has built a reputation for creating a meticulous review system that often requires years for a developer to obtain approvals. That’s been the case for multiple projects. However, the town also approved one of the biggest developments in the valley when it approved more than 500,000 square feet of residential and commercial space at Willits in the early 2000s.
In addition to adding to the complexity of the review, delving into design also would risk creating a subjective process that leads to more land-use squabbles. Basalt already has plenty of those.
Town Manager Ryan Mahoney, whose background is in community development, said in a prior interview that people need to wait before passing final judgment on One 10 Harris. He said he believes the appearance will be different and more acceptable to critics once landscape fills in and the three commercial buildings are completed on the east side.
Maron said the building is of a design character and color palate that “is very much in style in Denver at the moment and probably less so here.”
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