By Dyana Z. Furmansky
In its first regular meeting of 2022, Basalt Town Council approved a resolution to ratify, continue and declare a local disaster emergency due to COVID-19. “Here we go again,” said Town Manager Ryan Mahoney.
Tuesday night’s passage of the measure was unanimous and, for public health reasons, required that meetings be virtual until the disaster emergency is lifted. All seven council members participated electronically. Staff was either at home or in distanced locations at Town Hall to run the Zoom proceedings. Presentations to the council and public attendance, which was low, were also virtual.
“I know more people who have gotten COVID-19 in the last two weeks, including in my own family, than during the entire pandemic,” said Councilor Gary Tennenbaum.
One of the issues under consideration was the free public transportation that will start in February. The Town Council unanimously approved an agreement struck with Aspen Downtowner Group LLC, which will provide one route of “micro transport” services within Basalt, and a second route from the town with stops at City Market in El Jebel and Whole Foods in Willits.
Mahoney explained that the Roaring Fork Transit Authority will provide Basalt with half the $190,000 cost for the pilot program to improve short-distance travel while reducing the number of single vehicles making trips. Mahoney said a rider app called “Basalt Connects” will show the schedule and stops. The service will be available for eight months of the year, excluding tourism’s shoulder seasons in spring and fall.
The Town Council approved an electronic invoice and credit card payment system for residents paying water bills and other municipal fees, such as court costs. Jenny Aragon, an accounting technician for the town, said that a payment portal can now be created to service customers who have been asking for this payment option.
Two requests for expanded liquor licenses were heard. New York Pizza owner Kevin Jones asked that the shop be allowed to sell “spirituous liquors” in addition to beer and wine, and won easy approval from the councilors. A second request for the sale of fermented malted beverages at Willits Town Store met with continued opposition on its second reading, before being approved in a 5-2 vote.
“I won’t be supporting this, there are plenty of places to buy booze,” said Councilor Glenn Drummond, who questioned why one more liquor outlet was “needed” with so many already established. Councilor Tennenbaum also voted no. As at past liquor license hearings, Councilor Elyse Hottel asked for a “broader conversation” about how many liquor stores should be in the community.
No Town Council meeting in recent memory has been without some reference to affordable housing, a need that no councilor disputes. On that subject, Simi Hamilton, a former U.S. World Cup cross-country skier, asked for approval of an accessory dwelling unit of about 450 square feet on a property owned by him and his wife, Sophie Caldwell, who was his cross-country teammate.
Hamilton, who grew up in Aspen, said the new unit would be fully equipped with a kitchen and have its own entrance. “We’d like to supplement our mortgage, and provide a long-term rental” for an existing Roaring Fork worker, he said. Mayor Bill Kane said he was “heartened that a local kid” returned to the Valley wanting to invest in the community, even in a small way. The council approved Hamilton’s request unanimously.
Also on the Town Council’s virtual docket was a resolution approving a slightly revised intergovernmental agency agreement with the Ruedi Water and Power Authority (RWPA). The agreement, last signed in 2003 according to Executive Director April Long, is with municipal authorities in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield Counties. The approved revisions, which include a correction in RWPA’s name, restates the Ruedi authority’s purposes of managing the reservoir for water quality, power and recreation, and its task of continued surveillance to prevent invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels from becoming entrenched.
The meeting ended with an executive session about land acquisition for a new police station. Executive sessions are closed to the public.