Colorado mountain town aims to avoid ‘dead zone’
BASALT, Colorado ” Basalt officials unveiled the guts of a plan Tuesday night to prevent the downtown core from being a “dead zone” dominated by more real estate offices and banks.
Nothing was approved, but the majority of town council members informally endorsed a plan presented by the town staff “to retain vitality, historic character and community” in the core.
Existing businesses will be “grandfathered” along Midland Avenue and Two Rivers Road, so no one will be booted out. But zoning and regulations will be used to prevent a proliferation of professional offices.
Old mining towns throughout Colorado and much of the western U.S. battle the same problem: Once they become popular tourist destinations or thriving bedroom communities, property values soar and changes uses in the downtown core. The shops, saloons and restaurants that are often responsible for the charm are replaced by real estate firms and other professional offices that have limited appeal and do little to create vitality at night.
Basalt councilwoman Amy Capron said real estate offices, banks, doctors and dentists, and non-profit organizations are all important to a town. The problem arises when they dominate a stretch of a compact down core like Basalt’s, she said.
“It’s tough because that’s kind of the dead zone when you’re walking down the street,” Capron said.
The town planning staff worked with Aspen consultant Alan Richman on ideas to prevent Basalt’s dead zone from expanding. Components of that plan include:
– Create a list of “community-serving uses” that are desirable downtown. Those might include retail shops, restaurants and bars, lodges, and public and non-profit uses.
– Require that the first 25 feet in depth of the first floor of buildings in the Midland and Two Rivers core be devoted to those community-serving uses. An office could be allowed on the back portion of a storefront.
– Prohibit existing businesses that aren’t considering community-serving uses from expanding or converting to other non-conforming uses. When non-conforming businesses close, they must be replaced by a conforming use. An inventory of existing office space will be taken. The town won’t let office space square footage to exceed that inventory.
– Create a process where developers or property owners can appeal for hardship exemptions.
One specific target of the new rules will be real estate offices selling one specific development project. Numerous offices in downtown Aspen have popped up in recent years to sell fractional ownership projects. Basalt wants to prevent those types of offices.
“Whatever we do wouldn’t effect existing uses,” Councilman Chris Seldin stressed.
The proposed plan on downtown vitality is part of Basalt’s overhaul of growth management regulations and an increase of affordable housing requirements. The council voted 4-0 Tuesday night to extend a moratorium on most new development applications to give it more time to work on those rules. The moratorium will be in place until June 10.
Some time before that deadline, a hearing will be held on the proposed rules on downtown vitality and the public will get a chance to comment. The date of that hearing hasn’t been established.