ASPEN - The idea of a "parklet" on East Hopkins Avenue's restaurant row did not sit well with a majority of Aspen City Council members during a Tuesday work session.
Parklets have been created in cities worldwide by transforming a small number of downtown parking spaces into tiny and temporary parks in order to enhance the overall pedestrian experience. Some parklets are simple configurations of couches, chairs and tables where downtown workers and shoppers meet to share lunch and chat. Others are spaces rented out to nearby businesses, such as restaurants, to provide a casual outdoor atmosphere for diners.
Councilmen Torre, Derek Johnson, Adam Frisch and Steve Skadron expressed reservations about a proposal from two city employees, historic preservation officer Amy Guthrie and capital assets director Scott Miller. Guthrie and Miller's plan suggested moving forward with a summer experiment in which six spaces on the north side of East Hopkins between South Mill and South Monarch streets would be used to create a parklet with a faux deck. The restaurants on that side of the street would be asked to participate, sharing the space at a city-subsidized price.
Only Mayor Mick Ireland seemed willing to go along with the idea on a trial basis. He said he spoke about it Tuesday morning at the Aspen Chamber Resort Association's meeting in response to a question from board members.
"I said, 'Cities are not that good at experiments, and we ought to be a little better.' Everybody can conjecture that it's going to do this or do that ... but why not try it since we seem to have people willing to try it, and maybe it will spread and other people will want to have it and see more value in that than in the parking," Ireland said.
Ireland also pointed out that improving the "pedestrian ambiance" in the downtown area is a stated council goal.
Parking director Tim Ware said removing the six parking spaces on restaurant row on the north side of East Hopkins for three months during the summer would mean a loss of $8,500 in parking revenue for the city, money used for transportation. But it was pointed out during the meeting that the city's estimated $25,000 to $30,000 investment in the parklet - as well as the loss of parking revenue - could be offset partially by creating a few extra paid parking spaces somewhere else downtown, renting the parklet out to the handful of restaurants near it and reaping extra sales-tax revenue from increased summer business that the parklet might generate.
Though the four councilmen had numerous reasons for opposing the plan, much of it boiled down to what they perceived as an unfair advantage to the East Hopkins restaurants that would benefit the most.
"I hate to go against experiments," Frisch said. "But this is less about urban enhancement and pedestrian-friendly amenities (and more of a) subsidized restaurant rental plan. It will be perceived as dropping a gift in front of a certain number of restaurants at a price that I believe is ridiculously low."
Torre said Tuesday that he walked around East Hopkins, South Mill and South Monarch streets, polled businesses and restaurants and found scant support for the parklet from various owners and managers - except from those who would directly benefit.
"I'm not in support right now, of this plan," he said, adding that he might support a future parklet in some other area with a different use.
"If you could design something that was implementable for a day or a weekend, on a trial, that would be more interesting to me," Torre said. "I think enhancing these businesses for the duration of a summer is a little much."
Johnson said the problem with the concept is that it would work.
"Restaurants are going to love it," he said. "But as we look long term, we're opening a can of worms. Pretty soon everyone in town is going to want one."
The parklets would upset the current rent structures of local restaurant spaces, Johnson said, with the likelihood that property owners would gain the ability to charge more money for locations next to parklets while the value of rentals in other areas (without parklets) might decrease.