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Midvalley officials hope to harness support for alleviating housing, childcare shortage

May 27, 2015

Basalt mayor Jacque Whitsitt speaks while Eagle County Commissioners, Pitkin County Commissioners, and Basalt town council members listen.
Credit Elise Thatcher

Officials in the midvalley are trying to find a way to join forces on two big issues: childcare and affordable housing. Aspen Public Radio’s Elise Thatcher was at an unusual collaborative meeting last night and has this report.     

Representatives of Eagle County, the Town of Basalt, and Pitkin County gathered in El Jebel, with a roomful of attendees watching closely. Commissioners and town councilors were supposed to discuss a range of issues from education to a kayak park— but a shortage in daycare and affordable housing took center stage. Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon said it was up to elected officials to tackle those problems, because he and county managers usually handle far simpler issues, like a broken streetlight or waterline. “We can solve those, we know what the solution are,” said Scanlon. “They’re typically technical in nature [and] they’re easy to resolve.”

 

Whereas a lack of rental housing and childcare is a community-wide problem, affecting a significant number of residents. Officials seemed similarly daunted by those issues, but tried to find at least one solution to pursue. “It seems to me like the open space [collaboration] is a good model,” pointed out Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry. “Pitkin County and Eagle County have been collaborating on open space… and Basalt… that we want to make open space in the Valley floor in this mid valley area. So could we do that with housing? We want to do 300 units in the midvalley area?”

Such a sizable development didn’t gain traction, though. Other attendees pointed to RFTA as an example of many jurisdictions successfully joining forces to improve local services. Several at the table pushed for a concrete step forward.  “Most of the development that’s going to happen in the next 10 - 15 years is going to happen here. So my suggestion is Basalt do work, and Eagle and Pitkin [Counties] assign someone that effort. [In] the case of daycare, we pick a site and we do a pro forma and we come up with an idea of what to do with it.”

Stevens and others highlighted property Basalt already owns. In the end, representatives of Eagle and Pitkin Counties, and Basalt agreed to  create a subcommittee to look at the most affordable and effective ways to improve affordable housing and childcare options. Nearly everyone in the room praised the group for meeting for the first time to address housing and childcare. “There is an extraordinary window of opportunity we feel is open,” said John Bennett, Director of the Cradle to Career Initiative. “There is more support for these issues among yourselves combined that we have seen maybe ever, in this Valley. It’s quite extraordinary. And at the same time… maybe it’s something in the air, there’s a groundswell of community support. There’s so many organizations, from Parachute to Aspen, thinking about working on these issues.”

Eagle and Pitkin Counties and Basalt aim to continue hashing out possible affordable housing and childcare projects at another to-be-determined meeting.