Housing was the topic of the day in the Town of Basalt with occasion to celebrate a special new family in our midst, consider community needs, and review a concept proposal for the former Pan and Fork riverfront parcel.
The beginning and end of the sequence highlighted two projects on the Town's full slate of activities: one called "Heaven" by the family that will soon call it home, and the other a proposal to build residential condominiums and a boutique hotel on the swath of land between Two Rivers Road and the Roaring Fork River.
"An Emotional Roller Coaster, but a good Roller Coaster"
A feeling crowd gathered mid-afternoon for a ground-breaking at the former community garden on Homestead Avenue, signalling the beginning of "construction" of Basalt's
first Habitat for Humanity home
. When finished, the modest home will give new life and hope to the family of Assaf Dory, a veteran sheriff's deputy in Florida who lost his leg in the line of duty. Since that day in 2001, he, his wife and four children have waged a life-battle described poignantly in an Aspen Times
"This is the first time we can say the light at the end of the tunnel is actually a light and not a train," Assaf told reporter Scott Condon. He described his journey to Basalt as accidental - a stop-over on a cross-country move to Oregon. Friends encouraged the family to look around Basalt.
"A couple of days later we found a place, signed a lease and found heaven," Assaf recounted to today's audience before he, his family, Mayor Jacque Whitsitt, Town Councilman Rob Leavitt, and others grabbed their shovels. "What makes Basalt special is the people. It's been an emotional roller coaster but a good (one). It shows that people really care for one another."
Lowe Enterprises Inspires a Vision for the Roaring Fork Riverfront
Later in the afternoon in the Town Hall, Lowe Enterprises conducted the first in a series of informational meetings to gather input from the Basalt community, Planning & Zoning Commission and Downtown Area Advisory Committee on the developing concept for the former Pan and Fork site.
After more than a year of citizens meetings, visioning, mapping, ideas development and concept refinement, this is the first time the town has seen a tangible product off the drawing board of a property owner-associated developer.
The standing-room only audience arrived perhaps expecting to see simple architectural designs for the new hotel and residences, along with their placement on the 2.6 acre parcel owned by the Roaring Fork Community Development Corporation. What was revealed was a panoply of structures laid out amid courtyards, walkways, green space, and a green amphitheater large enough for 1,000 people - all tiered in an intriguing progression down to the river. There were two clusters of residential housing in a line with the 60-room "boutique" hotel divided by Woonerfs or "living streets," which are essentially pedestrian plazas that provide both visuals and access to the river.
James DeFrancia, president of Lowe Enterprises, began the presentation by affirming that he and his associates endeavored to follow the principles laid out through the Our Town Planning process and DAAC meetings and integrate those recommendations into a financially-viable project. He reminded the audience that it was early in the planning process, barely 120 days since inception, and stressed the importance of public sector input.
"This is not an application, but a concept," said Chris Touchette, principal at CCY Architects, lead architects for the project. It's part of a process continuum, which draws from grassroots guidance and ideally progresses to a product consistent with community desires and values. The guidelines were laid out last December in final recommendations during the DAAC's December wrap-up:
- Connectivity between downtown and the rivers through visual and physical access
- Improvement of Lion's Park
- Allowing density to drive revitalization
- Putting "There There"
It was easy to imagine concerts in the amphitheater, evenings by a firepit (true, a firepit wasn't mentioned but perhaps that was the only omission), walks along the river, gatherings in the creative park spaces or inside in the brew pub, public and private events in hotel's 60-person capacity banquet room, and special occasions on the roof-top terrace.
The hotel was described as three-and-a-half stories. Acknowledging that building height is an important consideration for many, John Cottle, partner and principal at CCY Architects, illustrated a step-back upper floor concept from several angles, as well as a scenario were the fourth floor to be removed: more of a wall-like expanse with less open space. The existing concept retains 60% open space in the RFCDC portion and 80% open space overall.
Of the 52 condominiums in a mix of two- to three-story buildings, 40 will be permanent residences. Prices for the one- to four-bedroom units will range from $400,000 to $900,000. Parking will be underground, with both public and private parking in the hotel and public spaces on the street. If the developer proceeds and the project is approved, construction will likely be staged in segments over three years. The first stage will see development of one of the two residential buildings and the park, followed by the second residence complex, then the hotel. Mr. DeFrancia assured the audience that pre-sales would drive construction progress and alleviate concerns of a project stalled mid-development.
Responses to the presentation were largely positive:
- "I think it is awesome and wish we could start tomorrow," said Kathleen Cole, former owner of the Veranda shop in downtown.
- "It looks wonderful. I'd love to take my son to this park. Basalt needs this," one Southside resident commented.
- "I'm 100 percent in support of anyone who puts boots on the ground in downtown Basalt," said another.
- "When do pre-sales start?" was the final question. "As soon as we get our approvals," Mr. DeFrancia replied laughing.
Several staff from the Rocky Mountain Institute were in attendance. Marty Pickett, RMI's executive director and general counsel commented on the importance of the project to the new Innovation Center.
The general enthusiasm was tempered by cautions to safeguard other established community values. Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and Town Councilman Gary Tennenbaum stressed the importance of assuring that the open space was both generous and accessible in any final plan. Gerry Terwilliger, former DAAC member and steadfast advocate of a prominent riverside park, said he'd even consider taller buildings to enable more green. Concern about the impact of the development on the Town's two existing hotels was also voiced as were affordable housing considerations.
Long-time Councilman Rick Stevens described the evolution of the Town's planning over the past more than 17 years and the consistent focus on maintaining downtown vitality, increasing people traffic, and maximizing the river as a community asset. He referenced an article linked in the Chamber's January 14, 2015 newsletter on citizen-led or "stakeholder-driven governance." He urged all present to read this insightful article written for Downtown Idea Exchange, to consider the basic guiding principles described and the "social capital matrix" that has brought us to this point while evaluating the project and its place in Basalt's future.
Disclaimer: A lot was presented this evening, and I'm reasonably certain a few of the details I've provided can be improved upon. Fortunately, Scott Condon was in attendance and you can pick up an Aspen Times to read his
, or listen for Marci Krivonen on Aspen Public Radio. More importantly, there will be two more meetings for public viewing and comment:
- Thursday, March 12, 4:30-6:30pm - Public Open House, Town Hall
- Tuesday, April 14 (time TBD) at the Basalt Library
Information will be posted on the Our Town Planning website, and comments may be sent to OurTown@Basalt.net. Or share your views and start a conversation on our Basalt CO Community Page (FaceBook). I do encourage those opining to study up on the past year's Our Town Planning gatherings, Town surveys, DAAC meetings, summaries and recommendations. We're not just building a hotel. We're building a Town.
Reviewing Affordable Housing
Sandwiched between the still deeply-moving Habitat ground-breaking ceremony and the stimulating presentation made later, was an excellent affordable housing update from Economic and Planning Systems (EPS) and the Basalt Affordable Community Housing Commission (BACH). It covered employment trends over the last decade and particularly those since the 2008 economic downturn.
Among the major findings were:
- slow employment growth compared to population growth
- growth in a portion of low-wage jobs
- escalating affordability gaps.
The upshot was a recommendation for at least 200 new housing units to meet existing demand. There was also conversation around the need for economic development to stimulate job growth and attract workers to downtown Basalt (a key focus area of the Chamber's new economic development partnership); increased marketing of the downtown, and parking considerations. There were fascinating statistics on population versus job growth, commuter trends, and worker preferences. But, it's after midnight and I must pack for a trip on Thursday. To view this full report, please take a look at this week's Town Council
. Affordable housing is another aspect of the Chamber's economic development planning, so look for a more complete update in the month's ahead.