Aspen City council gets first look at chain ordinance Monday night

Break the chains?

The city of Aspen has been soliciting feedback on Ordinance 6, which would regulate chain stores in Aspen. Here’s a sampling of what the city has received on the website

• “It is important to preserve Aspen’s character.”

• “This ordinance is long overdue. Aspen needs some of the small shops it had 20 years ago, like the Christmas store and Short Sports. There is nothing charming about high end clothing stores and pot shops.”

• “The market is not an invention of capitalism. It has existed for centuries. It is an invention of civilization.”

• “While I am all for careful discerning growth, this is a way to micro -manage and utterly control the free market; we need both funky vitality and quality high-end retail, which usually means chains. I am simply uncomfortable with this kind of controlling social engineering.”

• “My neighbors are cutthroat CEOs. The majority of downtown is owned by six corporate entities. The ski company is growing like a cancer and owned by a family with 10% stake in General Dynamics. Town is owned and largely controlled by Big Business. Anything we can do to break up this monopoly is to be supported.”

• “No. I don’t believe that the City should regulate formula or chain retail. I don’t think that citizens or business owners will see any salutary effects like reduced rent or increased ‘local’ businesses. I, too, miss such local stalwarts as Bill Bullock, Aspen Drug, and others but unintended consequences will surely come back to haunt the City.”


Aspen City Council will get its first look tonight at an ordinance aimed at regulating downtown chain stores, but it won’t be until next week that residents can voice feedback to elected officials.

In the meantime, the city has been collecting opinions on the website since Feb. 12, with a majority of participants in favor of the ordinance.

The website’s question — “Do you believe the city of Aspen should regulate formula businesses downtown? Why or why not?” — had attracted more than 30 responses by Sunday.

“Yes. It is vital to preserve the unique history and culture of Aspen that makes it so attractive to both visitors and locals and to provide opportunities for locally owned and operated businesses,” said one respondent using the name “55.”

Private planner Stan Clauson called the proposed chain regulations a “terrible idea.”

“Gap and Banana Republic were two of the most local-serving businesses this town saw in a long time,” Clauson wrote. “Too bad they are gone. Lululemon continues to be a strongly local-serving business, just go by the store any day. Do we need Dolce & Gabbana next door? Perhaps not, but do we really want City Hall deciding these questions?”

Ordinance 6 is slated to go before the City Council members in the first half of the meeting that starts at 5 p.m. in the basement of City Hall. The public cannot speak during first hearings such as tonight’s, but they can chime in during the second hearing scheduled for March 6.

Outreach events have been held that have generated citizen feedback, including a panel discussion Jan. 19 at the Aspen Institute and an open house last week at the Limelight Hotel. In the past two weeks, city officials also have given presentations to the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Commercial Core and Lodging Commission, both which serve as advisory boards to the council.

The chain debate

A group led by Jerry Murdock and former Aspen mayors John Bennett and Bill Stirling have been advocating for chain regulations since November, when they introduced the idea to the City Council.

That trio and others have argued that mom-and-pop retailers are being squeezed out by out-of-town, luxury chain stores they say are eroding the charm and quaintness of downtown and not serving local residents. Language in the ordinance states that restrictions on formula retailers would “maintain the unique character of the community and the appeal of its downtown core; protect the community’s economic vitality by ensuring a diversity of businesses; and foster businesses that serve a variety of needs, including those of year-round residents.”

Ordinance 6 would apply to five Aspen zone districts that chiefly comprise commercial and lodging zones, as well as the historic district on Main Street.

A chain, by the ordinance creators’ definition, is a business with at least 11 locations that also meets criteria concerning standardized merchandise, services, signs, facades and other elements.

All existing stores in Aspen satisfying that criteria would be grandfathered in as well as the buildings that house them, meaning they would not be held to restrictions for future chain stores.

Future retailers, restaurants and bars wanting to set up shop in Aspen, however, would be have go through a special-use review before Planning and Zoning before gaining entrance to Aspen. Planing and Zoning would need to determine if the stores meet local need and other criteria.

The ordinance has its share of critics.

At last week’s Commercial Core and Lodge Commission meeting, members cast skepticism on the proposed regulations. “Ms. (Kiki) Raj (a board member) commented that the idea is stupid, low quality and not well thought out. Mr. (Bill) Guth (board member) agreed … and stated that something like this cannot be policed,” according to the minutes from that meeting.

Commissioners also argued that an ordinance would create more work for city staff, with Guth suggesting a board position on that matter that reads: “(The Commercial Core and Lodge Commission) understands the concerns of the community and the reasons behind this; however, we find that the current attempt is rife with loopholes and work-arounds and will always be. Encourage, stimulate and incentivize to thrive and be here.”

Another critic of the ordinance, resident Steve Falender, wrote to Community Development that “I also think the process for (Planning and Zoning) to judge a new chain store’s acceptance to the community is impossibly subjective and, given the existing huge variety of stores in this community today, if a new store is rejected, legal challenge will likely result.”