Project to bring grocery, housing to Basalt wins key approval

Downtown

The Basalt Town Council granted the first round of final approvals for two major projects on Tuesday night, one in the downtown core and one at the residential section of Willits.

The council voted 6-0 to approve 65 apartments and 9,000 square feet of commercial space at the site where Clark’s Market was once located, near the intersection of Midland Avenue and Two Rivers Road. Councilwoman Elyse Hottel recused herself because the firm she works for is a consultant on the project.

“This is going to be a good thing for the town of Basalt at the end of the day,” said Councilman Glenn Drummond, who made the motion to approve the project proposed by Tim Belinski and Andrew Light.

The council also voted 7-0 to approve a project known as Parcel 5 of Sopris Meadows subdivision. The residential project features 109 free-market units and 46 affordable housing residences.

Both projects are scheduled for a second reading of final approvals on Aug. 9.

The Basalt Center Circle project drew roughly equal numbers of friends and foes during a public hearing on Tuesday night. Supporters said it would add much needed affordable and attainable housing. The 65 apartments include 17 that will be price-capped. The 9,000 square feet of commercial space is intended for use as a grocery store with an associated liquor store and possible food vendors.

While supporters said the project would add vitality downtown, critics said it will add to traffic congestion and a parking shortage that already plagues Basalt at busy times.

Mayor Bill Kane, the most ­outspoken supporter of the project on the council, said it will add important “transitional housing” at an appropriate place next to a public transit stop.

“It’s density where it belongs,” he said.

Light and Belinski plan to tear down the former Clark’s building, which also currently houses Jimbo’s Liquors and BLT restaurant. The majority of the building has sat empty for the better of a decade. The building will be replaced with a three-floor structure. The grocery store and associated uses will be on the ground floor. Apartments will be on the upper two stories.

The developers made 11th-hour alterations to try to secure approval. In response to public and ­council comments about the appearance of the building in a July 12 meeting, they redesigned the west elevation to blend better with buildings in historic old-town Basalt. They also reduced the number of studio apartments by four and added two larger, one-bedroom units.

“You guys are really good listeners and that’s not taken lightly,” Councilman Ryan Slack said.

While final approval seems certain, council members said they wanted certain details ironed out at the next meeting. Councilwoman Angela Anderson said she wanted the redesign applied to all sides of the proposed building. The development team members said they are working on the design.

Council members also reserved the right to dive into conditions intended to assure a grocery store will be part of the mix in a timely manner. As proposed, the developers must provide proof of a lease with a grocery tenant and put up funds to guarantee the tenant finish of the space before the residential units can be occupied. The developers said lenders have trouble with that condition.

“A bank will see this as a flawed business plan — the opening of any portion of the newly constructed building needs to occur as soon as construction is completed upon it,” said a letter to town government from the developers. “None of the uses should be allowed to hold up another.”

A process also must be crafted on what happens if a grocery operator cannot be enlisted or if a grocery store opens and fails.

“The draft conditions lock in the grocery use as the anchor use for the property and would require the applicant to go back to the (Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission) and Town Council for review if they would like to incorporate another anchor use,” a memo from the planning staff to the council said.

The developers want the flexibility to change anchor tenants without review by the town, as long as the tenant complies with approved anchor uses defined by the town for that zone district.

Slack wants assurances that the project won’t stall and create a different kind of eyesore.

“How can we guarantee we don’t have a giant hole in the ground?” he asked.

Councilman Dieter Schindler asked the developers to guarantee all 65 apartments will be occupied full-time, year-round in hopes of housing local workers. As proposed, they must only guarantee that all leases will be for six months or longer. In addition, 60% of the units must be occupied by local residents as their primary residence.

Light said the apartments are targeted for workforce housing so it is anticipated that leases will be longer than six months. Critics said wealthy out-of-town visitors could gobble up the free-market units for extended stays and prevent use by workers. The primary residence provision would tackle part of that issue. In addition, there is a prohibition on short-term rentals.

By: Scott Condon I  Aspen Daily News I July 28, 2022


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