Another emergency moratorium? | AspenTimes.com

Another emergency moratorium?

Abigail Eagye

Facing the imminent loss of still more venerable Aspen landmarks, the City Council is poised to enact a new six-month moratorium on building permit applications, this time for any property in the city’s commercial core.

Owners of The Red Onion recently announced they will close the restaurant permanently in March. That announcement comes amid efforts to continue operations at Explore Booksellers and Bistro and on the heels of a freshly inked deal to save the Isis Theatre.

Councilman Jack Johnson says those are but a few of the city’s vital businesses that appear threatened with extinction. After approving the first reading of the moratorium ordinance Monday night, Johnson said he’s heard a lot of talk in the current building moratorium about creating locally serving business, but he’s seen no action to preserve existing businesses.

The new ordinance will allow the city to look at ways to protect buildings’ interiors and uses, he said. The current moratorium, set to expire Feb. 28, addresses the pace and scale of development in Aspen.

“The purpose of this ordinance will be to prevent any demolition of interiors in the commercial core until such time as the City Council can address what other communities have done to preserve their communities’ identities and character,” he said after the meeting.

“We have not contrived this emergency. It exists,” he told the rest of the council earlier.

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Johnson said the city lacks the tools to protect struggling but important businesses and that the community hasn’t had a chance for “meaningful dialogue” on the subject ” although at a series of community meetings this summer, there was overwhelming support for saving businesses like the Isis, Explore, the Onion, Cooper Street Pier and other popular locals’ hangouts.

“I think we need the time and protection of this ordinance” to allow that dialogue, he said.

Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss, who proposed the ordinance agreed, saying the city didn’t “manufacture” the emergency, but that it “has come upon us.”

Councilman Torre also stressed the urgency, saying he feels “under siege by different factors.”

“What may seem extreme to some people ” I disagree,” he said. “It’s necessary.”

Without going into detail, Councilwoman Rachel Richards “seconded” the other three council members’ comments.

Mayor Helen Klanderud, however, opposed the measure.

“I will not support this emergency ordinance. I don’t believe there’s an emergency,” she said. “I think there will be serious impacts and serious results” in both the long and short terms.

The council will address the ordinance on second reading at 5 p.m. today at City Hall. Although not required to do so, Klanderud said the council will accept public comment.

Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is abby@aspentimes.com

The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.

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