Tensions were high at a packed Town Council meeting in Basalt Tuesday night, where the discussion was about downtown redevelopment. A group of people criticized council and the mayor, accusing them of hijacking the months-long community process of deciding what belongs on key parcels. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.
A story that aired last week on Aspen Public Radio prompted much of the anger, especially from some downtown merchants who would like to see some form of development on newly vacant land. At issue is about 13 acres that stretch from the former Clarks Market to Old Pond Park. Some acreage is riverfront.
In the interview, Mayor Jacque Whitsitt pointed to surveys that show citizens value open space, trails and recreation. She goes on to say she thinks the majority of council members quote - “have, for the first time, seen that river and are not going to let it go.”
"I just wanted to apologize to many of the folks who are here who are participating in a public process," said Whitsitt Tuesday night. "I didn’t mean to upset people and I never had that in mind."
In fact, Whitsitt never said in the story she was opposed to the process.
Many of those at Tuesday’s meeting had taken part in an unconventional planning process called “Our Town.” The idea was to work from the bottom up starting with proposals from community members on what to do with several developable acres. Local resident Norm Clasen says he’s counting on this process to boost a struggling downtown.
"This was our chance! This was the chance the whole community had to sit down and work, to come up with a plan that the community could live with and you (council) could live with. My biggest fear was it’s just going to get killed at that table, and that’s what’s happening."
After many comments and several rounds of applause from the public, the board got a chance to weigh in.
"I never said that I’m against development," said Gary Tennenbaum, who sits on the Town Council.
He says government doesn’t solve issues, the community does.
"I want to do it (development) appropriately. I love parks and open space but I also love downtown and I’d love to make this area work."
After more than an hour of often direct and pointed criticism, Mayor Whitsitt said she wants unity between the council and the community. She supports development of housing in the area around the former Clark’s Market and some sort of active public space.
"More development would not be something that I couldn’t go along with. It depends on what it is. I also think we need to have access to a park that attracts people there," she said.
A citizen Downtown Area Advisory Committee began meeting two weeks ago, going over ideas from the “Our Town” process. Their next meeting is Thursday. It’s open to the public and council.