midland ave

The Midland Avenue Streetscape Project in Basalt will widen the sidewalks, calm traffic and create a more engaging experience downtown, according to town officials. Critics say it looks too much like Disneyland. 

Basalt resident Ted Guy submitted a petition to the Basalt Town Council on Tuesday night seeking a redesign of the Midland Avenue Streetscape Project and a prohibition of work during the heart of summer.

The petition, signed by 207 people over one month, was the latest salvo in an ongoing effort by a faction in town to alter the $12 million project. Some Midland Avenue business owners and town residents have appeared at council meetings and written letters to the editor of local newspapers asking the town to reconsider the current plan.

Other business owners and residents have expressed support for the project and urged the town to proceed with work this summer to get construction finished as soon as possible rather than dragging it out.

Council members didn’t react to the petition on Tuesday. Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said Wednesday that the design was hashed out in a public process after voters approved funding for the general concept in November 2021. He said the process included “outreach” to business owners on Midland Avenue, the town’s main street.

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The Midland Avenue Streetscape Project in Basalt will redesign the intersection of Midland Avenue and Midland Spur. 

“Regarding the design, we’re not changing the design,” Mahoney said.

The project is intended to make Midland Avenue more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly. Traffic will be calmed via narrow lanes, a raised island with some plantings in the middle of the street and trees planted on the side of the traffic lanes. Sidewalks will be straightened and widened, and the curb between the street and sidewalk will be eliminated to make the corridor more compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Diagonal parking spaces will be converted to parallel parking. There will be more space for outdoor dining at restaurants and places for the public to hang out.

“I think the design is going to be well-received by the public,” Mahoney said.

Guy said the design is as big of a problem for his contingent as well as the timing of the project. Many opponents don’t like the conversion of parking spaces to parallel because it eliminates the number of spaces in front of Midland Avenue businesses.

Town officials counter that the project adds parking spaces on Midland Spur, just a hop and a skip from the commercial core. Midland Spur is currently getting overhauled as the first phase of the project. Work will be finished in late June, Mahoney said.

Guy said the center planters are also unpopular with the contingent he’s talked to as well as the overall, spiffed-up appearance.

“This is too much like Disneyland,” he said. “Some of us like the fact that (downtown) is old and well worn.”

The petition seeks three concessions: maintain the existing parking spaces on Midland Avenue, commence construction after the busy summer ends and don’t build islands and plant trees in the middle of the road.

Signatures were collected for a paper petition and an online version. Guy said he didn’t know how many people who signed are actually from Basalt, but the effort focused on local business owners and residents. It was circulated primarily in and around the town core.

When Guy submitted the petition, he said he doubted that the town would heed the call. He repeated the skepticism on Wednesday.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “A lot of people say, ‘Why bother to sign. They won’t change anything.’”

Mahoney said it’s not unusual for a public works project to draw criticism after the heavy equipment starts to roll, even if an effort was made to engage people during the planning.

“It’s not uncommon for people to come in after the design is complete,” he said.

While town officials aren’t prepared to reopen the design phase, they will at least explore if it is feasible to delay construction until fall on Midland Avenue. The town currently has a request for proposals out for the project. Bids are due June 1. A review committee will assess the bids and make a recommendation to the council at its June 13 meeting.

The request for proposals asks the bidders to provide written commentary, supplementing their formal bid, on the financial and practical implications of starting the work in fall and continuing into winter rather than starting in summer. Mahoney said past experience suggests that pushing the work into winter will result in higher prices due to digging in frozen ground and requiring more heating.

“There’s no way I can imagine you’d have a contract come in at the same cost,” he said.

Mahoney said the timing issue will be addressed at the June 13 meeting.