Aspen City Council eyes policy to curb special events at parks
Special event bookings for Aspen parks have increased 18 to 20 percent over the past four or five years, which has city leaders eyeing ways to contain the surging demand.
The uptick in events on public land — ranging from weddings to fundraisers — means the parks aren’t as accessible to the public as they should be, Parks and Recreation Manager Jeff Woods told members of City Council at a work session Tuesday.
During the summer especially, user groups are constantly seeking permits to use more popular parks — Paepcke, Rio Grande and Wagner, Wood said.
“We could have a special event everyday,” Woods said.
Woods and members of his office proposed having blackout dates running from June 23 through the end of each August because that’s when the parks are in the most demand.
Blackout dates also would include major holidays, except for the Fourth of July. And events consuming fewer than two days, which would include setup and break-down, would get priority over longer running events. Community events also would trump corporate or for-profit events.
A formalized policy also would cut down on the number of appeals for special-use permits, Woods suggested.
Currently a denied applicant can appeal their case to City Manager Steve Barwick. If he upholds the rejection, they can take their case to City Council for the final decision.
An updated policy, Woods said, “would make your jobs easier and our jobs easier to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for certain uses.”
Such long-standing events as Ruggerfest, MotherLode Volleyball Classic, Food & Wine Classic, Ducky Derby and the Science Fair, as well as fundraisers for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and the Early Learning Center, would be excluded from the new policy.
The rugby and volleyball tournaments, which are both held in September, and Food & Wine, which is put on in June, are private events. But the sporting events are free to the public, while Food & Wine, Wood said, “is a local event” because of the volunteers who work it and participate.
Because the discussion was during a work session, no policy was established.
City Council members agreed that the parks’ carrying capacity — that’s this summer’s buzz phrase for Aspen’s ability to sustain its swelling visitor population — have reached their limits.
“I’m very supportive of the blackout dates,” Councilwoman Ann Mullins said. “First, we need to make sure we have a lot of (public) access during the busiest times. And it really helps the for-profits and nonprofits manage their expectations when they want to use the park.”
Councilman Art Daily agreed.
“I just think the message we want to get out there with developing this policy is that parks are for the public, except in special circumstances,” he said.
The Aspen Golf Club also is proposing date restrictions for fundraisers from the last week of June through Labor Day. Grandfathered in would be the Aspen Junior Golf fundraiser. The Aspen High School football team holds its fundraiser in late May, and other nonprofits hold their charity drives in the fall.
Golf course director Steve Aitken said giving fundraisers exclusive use of the course during the high season isn’t fair to passholders and visitors. He said the fundraisers could be held during the shoulder months of April and May or September and October.
Aitken said if nonprofits want exclusive use during that time period, “we’re going to charge them full rate and then some.”
Earlier this summer, Sheriff Joe DiSalvo appealed to Mayor Steve Skadron to forgive a $10,000 fee to use the course for a fundraiser for the Aspen Hope Center, a suicide prevention and awareness nonprofit. Skadron backed the city staff’s decision to charge the Hope Center $10,000 for exclusive use of the links.
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