Aspen chain regulations gain steam
An Aspen movement to regulate chain stores gained more traction Monday.
The City Council, in the first formal action of a multi-step process, unanimously approved a resolution intended to spur an ordinance requiring incoming chains, or so-called formula retailers, to undergo conditional-use reviews before setting up shop here.
The ordinance goes to first reading before the City Council on March 6.
Before then, the city is seeking community feedback on the website http://www.aspen communityvoice.com, while Jerry Murdock, the chief architect of the chain-store-control movement, said he will host an open house sometime within the next couple of weeks.
The push for regulating formula retail comes at a time when some Aspen residents claim that commercial rents are being driven up by out-of-town concerns that can pay higher rents. These same retailers are sapping downtown of its small-town character, they claim, while mom-and-pop shops cannot afford to do business here.
Skeptics maintain that such an ordinance is born out of nostalgia and a yearning for Aspen in the ’70s and ’80s, and would create unintended consequences by disrupting the free market.
“The critical piece of this and part what gives me the most angst is the social engineering, which doesn’t work,” said Mayor Steve Skadron, adding he feared subjectivity would be the guiding force of such an ordinance.
A predecessor of his from the ’80s, Bill Stirling, retorted: “Social engineering is Aspen’s middle name. It’s been going on since the early ’70s, and the growth-management plan had a tremendous amount of subjectivity when instituted in the city and county.”
The greater focus of regulating chains is to “send a signal out that we want to protect these special things about those special areas in Aspen.”
The ordinance, which is modeled after similar legislation adopted in such towns as Sonoma, California, and Fredericksburg, Texas, defines chain stores as having at least 11 locations and meeting criteria concerning standardized merchandise, services, signs, facades and other elements.
Retailers meeting the criteria would have to go before the Planning and Zoning Commission to seek a conditional-use approval in order to have a presence in Aspen.
The ordinance would not apply to Aspen’s existing chain stores or developments that have been approved. It would apply to seven zone districts — commercial core, commercial, neighborhood commercial, Main Street historic mixed-use, lodge and commercial lodge.
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Basalt town government officials feared the worse when the coronavirus struck and soured the economy. They figured the town coffers would suffer a huge blow. Instead, sales tax collections have surged above the amount at this time last year.