Editor's Note: This interview is the second in a series on the Basalt mayoral race, taking place on April 7. Aspen Public Radio Morning Edition host and reporter Molly Dove sat down with all three candidates, Bill Kane, Rob Leavitt and Bill Infante, in their favorite place in Basalt.
Basalt mayoral candidate Rob Leavitt sits in a wooden chair sipping on hot tea alongside the Roaring Fork River in Willits. Looking straight ahead across the river, he points out the lot is empty and he wants to keep it that way. Encouraging slow growth in Basalt is one main reason why he is running for mayor.
MD: What is one thing you love about Basalt?
RL: I love living in a small town. I like going to supermarket and seeing my friends. I like that we know most of the families at the schools. I like that I can sit here on the river, catch Gold Medal trout outside my back door. We’re an outdoor family, so everything -- hiking, biking. I've been teaching skiing for 31 years, so in 25 minutes I'm up at Aspen Highlands.
MD: What is one thing that you would want to change about Basalt?
RL: I was on town council for four years, but I've been on [planning and zoning] for the last two and we're working on the master plan for Basalt. When I saw that they were looking to add potentially 2,000 [housing] units to a town of 4,000 units, it got my heart rate going. Driving up to Aspen every day can be tough, and if we got that many people in town, [you are then] looking at parking traffic and impacting our resources -- the rivers, the trails, parking lots. How many people can we sustain? We didn't really have those conversations when we started figuring out how many units we could possibly build. So [planning and zoning] consultants for the master plan, I don't feel like they asked the right questions. The first question they ask is, what should we build? I think the first question they should have asked is, should we build?
MD: The master plan could possibly build 2,000 more units in Basalt?
RL: Potentially 2,000 units to an area that has 4,000 units. And that would take a lot of time, it's not going to happen overnight, but that's the growth path that we're on. The online survey through the master plan process was do you want density or do you want urban sprawl? Nobody liked the sound of urban sprawl, so everybody chose density, but it's not a binary equation. Those aren't the only two options. How about build nothing, or how about small tasteful developments that fit the character and charm of our town? Those questions weren't asked, and that I believe was the flaw in the master planning process.
MD: So what qualifies you to be the mayor of Basalt?
RL: People have asked if I should have my head examined. I actually get that a lot. But [I have] four years on town council, two years on planning and zoning, I was on the gun range task force, I was on the school district visionary plan. I have two kids in the Basalt schools. We are fully invested in this community.
MD: What would be your first priority if you were to be elected?
RL: So my major platform [is] slow growth. We can't build our way out of the growth problem to support the schools. Strong schools make strong communities. And three, civil discourse. Just because we disagree doesn't mean we stop talking. Anybody who's married knows that. If I could wave a magic wand over Basalt, I'd like to change a lot of the attitude that people walk around with. So I was at the outdoor film festival last spring in Carbondale. It struck me how people that live in Carbondale love Carbondale. People who live in Basalt love to complain about Basalt. We can't legislate good feelings in making people be happy, but what we can do is maybe change your perception of both town government and what's happening in the town.
MD: How would you work to help residents say they do love Basalt?
RL: Just changing the tone on council. I'm told I have a calming influence. I'm trying to build a more consensus among the town councilors so we're not so divisive. We live in a town that's 51 to 49 or 55 to 45. There's going to be disagreements but it doesn't mean we stop talking.
MD: Why should voters vote for you instead of the two other candidates?
RL: I think Basalt's lucky cause you have three great candidates running for mayor. I have pledged to spend only $1,000 on my campaign and I'm self-funding. I don't want people's donations. I do want their vote, right? 1,200 people are going to vote in this election. 600 votes is going to win it. I can't imagine spending thousands of dollars to get those 600 votes on yard signs. It end up in the landfill and after the election. We're trying to be sustainable. We eat vegetarian meals at town council and [planning and zoning meetings]. I mean, we've got to walk the walk. So I'm trying to get the word out but I'm not going to play the popularity contest of yard signs. I've tried to meet as many people as I can. I need them to understand why they're not going to see my name all over the front yards is. I can't get behind that waste of resources. Give your money to your school, give your money to the church, give your money to the environment but don't give it to me.