By Todd Hartley
A big rumor about a hot topic in downtown Basalt was quietly confirmed at Tuesday night’s Basalt Town Council meeting, but anyone tuning in late to the proceedings is likely to have missed it.
“We should make sure people are aware that, while we can’t provide a lot of detail – we don’t have a lot of detail at this point – we know that we’ve had a formal application filed for redevelopment of the Clark’s Market grocery store,” said Mayor Bill Kane just minutes into the meeting during the mayor’s comments, “which is an enormous sort of breakthrough for us and the town. The building has sat vacant for way too long and is kind of a missing hole in the heart of our downtown community, so that’s welcome news.”
The announcement means that the large one-story building, a longtime Clark’s Market and, more recently, a Habitat for Humanity ReStore, will be redeveloped by a group headed by local developers Tim Belinski and Andrew Light. It’s the same ownership group behind the 22-residential-unit Basalt River Park development, which is set to break ground, also in downtown Basalt, any day now.
“We can’t take positions. We’re going to have to evaluate exactly what is being requested and evaluate the proposal in the normal land-use process,” Kane continued, “but I think it’s great news for the town, and I’m sure we’ll all be working to come to some amicable review and approval for that project. So, exciting stuff happening with projects this summer. It’s going to be a pretty busy summer, and we’re going to be working hard.”
Should the Clark’s Market redevelopment find approval quickly, it could mean that the Basalt River Park development, the actual Basalt River Park and the Clark’s Market makeover might all be under construction simultaneously. That would, indeed, make for a busy, hard-working summer in downtown Basalt. It would also leave undecided the fates of Jimbo’s Liquor and popular taqueria BLT, both of which are housed in the Clark’s Market building.
While most will welcome the news that the space may soon cease being vacant, the announcement effectively puts to rest the dream of redeveloping all of Basalt Center Circle as a planned unit development. Such an idea, which would have required a lot of cooperation, was floated in 2019’s Basalt Master Plan but has long been stymied by the complicated ownership situation of the parking lot and the various businesses involved.
The downside of increased tax revenue
A smidgen of unwelcome news passed by unnoticed early in the council meeting but became a subject of discussion later in the proceedings when a town staffer inadvertently showed a little too much enthusiasm for a mixed blessing.
Two minutes into the meeting, during the consent agenda, the council unanimously and without debate consented to a special-event permit for the 44th annual Basalt Half Marathon & Relay, which will be coming to town on June 6, and the VALE board grant awards from the town’s tobacco tax.
The awards, seven worth $10,000 and one worth $2,500, will be going out to “Basalt-serving, non-governmental organizations” A Way Out, Inc., Access After School, Aspen Strong Foundation, Focused Kids, Response, The Buddy Program, YouthZone Truancy Task Force and YouthZone.
Although the awards were passed with no discussion during the consent agenda, the robust tobacco tax’s two-edged-sword nature sparked some dialogue later when town Finance Director Christy Chicoine mentioned it during an otherwise routine breakdown of Basalt’s first-quarter financial statement.
“One really strong point, besides, of course, our sales tax numbers coming in higher than anticipated, is really looking at our tobacco tax,” said Chicoine. “The tobacco taxes continue to be very strong.”
“Hey, Christy, can I interrupt?” interrupted town councilman Gary Tennenbaum. “I’m not excited that the tobacco tax is doing so well. The goal of the tax was to get people to stop smoking.”
“I would like to endorse Gary’s comment,” said Kane. “It’s a little depressing that tobacco’s doing so well.”
Chicoine and the rest of the council agreed, but faced with the reality of the situation – a tax that garnered 42 percent of the revenue expected for the year in just three months, according to Chicoine – they acknowledged that the VALE grant awards were going out to good causes that might, ultimately, help curb tobacco use.
“Because we see this, it’s an indicator of a bad thing, but hopefully we can set our focus on these grants that can make a difference,” said Chicoine.