At its first meeting in 2014, the Aspen City Council will discuss options for increasing commercial activity and diversity in town.
In particular, the council will consider removing obstacles for start-up businesses, redefining antiquated zoning designations and allowing for more diverse commercial stores at Aspen’s lodges.
The zoning designation in question is Service-Industrial-Commericial, or SCI, which allows for the last service-oriented businesses of their kind to exist in Aspen. Many SCI-zoned shops, like the laundromat, are found at the North Mill Street Commercial Center, where short-term leases are common.
A memorandum to the council states that SCI provides “a safe haven for nearly extinct but needed businesses.” At the same time, new businesses find it difficult to move into SCI spaces because the zoning designation is very specific. Staff has suggested that if the city rewrites SCI that it be done in coordination with the developer of the property.
“Specific development incentives could be offered by the city in exchange for protecting certain uses or creating specific types of commercial spaces in a new development,” the memo states.
Previous efforts to rezone the property were met with pushback from existing tenants. But city staff contends that redevelopment could create small business start-up spaces, ranging from quasi-industrial operations to professional offices. Negotiations with the property owner would be complicated, the memo states. The property was purchased in 2007 by a collection of seven limited-liability companies headed by such Aspen businessmen as Andrew Hecht, Ronald Garfield and Steven Hansen.
The memo further states that rezoning from SCI to Neighborhood Commercial at Obermeyer Place also would be beneficial.
“The SCI spaces in Obermeyer have struggled to find tenants, some of which have been mostly vacant since inception,” the memo states.
Also at issue is that many commercial spaces within Aspen’s lodges are bound by antiquated approval conditions. This limits uses to travel agents, car-rental companies, sundry stores or gift shops. The memo states that the city could encourage property owners to seek changes in their agreements, which would be approved on a case-by-case basis.
The council also is given the option to seek public-private partnerships, with the goal of spurring commercial activity in town. It would a very different role for city staff, the memo states, and “the community is not used to seeing staff ‘drumming up business.’”
One dormant commercial space in town is the vacant basement at 508 E. Cooper St., which formerly housed Cooper Street Pier on its main level.
“The landowner has not been successful in their attempt to secure a tenant,” the memo states. “The City has the right to request proposals and ‘name a tenant for consent by the landowner.’”