Aspen council prepares for COVID-19 winter, looks at outdoor retail, restaurant options

Aspen City Council continues to prepare for winter in a COVID-19 world by agreeing Monday night to allow some limited retail operations in the right-of-way, as well as allowing restaurants to use shared parking spaces for pick up of to-go orders, and having two warming stations in the downtown core.

Council is poised to pass a resolution during its regular meeting Tuesday evening to allow restaurants to continue operating in parking spaces and other right-of-way areas from Dec. 1 until May 1, 2021.

Council also on Tuesday will consider an ordinance that extends the mandatory mask-wearing zone throughout the downtown core and other heavily traveled areas of town until May 1.

During their work session Monday, council members signed off on two warming stations that will take up three parking spaces at one location.

That one will be located on Monarch Street, near the corner of Hopkins Avenue and will be an extension of Francis Whitaker Park. The other will be located near the tourist information booth on the Cooper Avenue Pedestrian Mall.

There will be one heating tower at each station, along with lighting and greenery, and jersey barriers to protect people from vehicles.

The stations will be funded by a grant that the city received from the Colorado Department of Transportation and will be set up by Dec. 1, City Engineer Trish Aragon said.

Mayor Torre said he was concerned about the stations inviting people to congregate and not physically distance themselves from one another.

“I can see them being really popular, really busy,” he said. “We’ll live and learn on this one.”

City Manager Sara Ott said it is an experiment that will require some monitoring.

“We know this isn’t perfect but we also know that our restaurants in particular need some help with queuing and trying to find a solution and hopefully a combination of signage, our ambassadors, our parking officers can help us understand whenever the problem times are that we really need to be paying closer attention to the spaces,” she said.

A majority of council agreed that some sort of retail in the street or sidewalk could be activated for a temporary amount of time, like a weekend.

City officials said they were disappointed with how retailers used their right-of-way spaces this past summer in that they were either underutilized or sublet to other businesses.

This past summer, 22 businesses activated spaces in front of their storefronts for restaurant seating or merchandise display, taking up 47 parking spaces.

Council members disagreed on how much activation and events should be held in public parks, with some wanting responsible social gatherings to others who want to stick with passive activities like throwing a ball for a dog.

“I’m worried we are trying to provide more this winter than we have in past winters,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards said. “What we’re lacking from COVID is live music and bars and I miss that too. … I think it’s a little scary to think that Aspen needs to start being something different.”

City staff will continue to work on winter COVID plans and present them to council for direction in the near future.

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