Aspen mixed up on its commercial mix
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” In a town lopsided with high-end retail, Aspenites just can’t agree on regulating the city’s downtown commercial mix.
Nearly 100 Aspenites attended a wireless keypad voting session Friday at the Hotel Jerome. The voters clicked their way to a near 50-50 split on whether to increase government regulation of the city’s mix of shops, restaurants and offices.
The results of the survey will go before City Council at a work session Tuesday, and later to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
“It’s a really big issue and there is a lot of emotion,” said Chris Bendon, the city’s community development director. “On many of these things, the public is very divided.”
Bendon said that unlike with standard city zoning, which has models nationwide, only a handful of other cities are dealing with a similar preponderance of high-end retail in a resort setting.
Bendon and his staff have looked to places like Carmel, Calif., for answers.
A recent city survey of downtown Aspen listed 41 home furnishings and accessory shops, 46 offices, 51 restaurants, coffee shops and clubs, seven “sundries” shops, such as liquor stores, convenience, dry cleaning and office supplies, and an overwhelming 118 clothing and personal accessories stores.
Ben Gagnon, special projects planner with community development, described the pros and cons of a number of possible solutions, and voters had a chance to chime in between bites from a free buffet at the Jerome ballroom.
But Friday’s voting pool, which included some 41 local business owners out of 93 people, split evenly on options like direct government subsidies and deed-restricted commercial space to encourage retail diversity.
Voters were also split on prohibiting retail chains and restaurants as well as on establishing a quota on high-end, designer chain stores such as Gucci and Prada or on jewelry stores. (Officials reported 24 jewelry stores in the downtown.)
More than 80 percent of voters supported the kind of public-private cooperation strategy used to save the Isis Theater or to create Obermeyer Place, as well as a city incentives program to develop less-desirable retail space ” second floors and basements in the downtown ” that would likely yield lower rents and attract small-scale, local businesses.
Voters generally agreed that the city should encourage more restaurants and nightclubs to set up on the city’s pedestrian malls, but stopped short of supporting strict government quotas and regulations on Aspen’s pedestrian malls.
“Ninety-five people is a lot of people, but it’s a small percentage of town. I think this is helpful, but people shouldn’t treat it as if it’s a ballot election,” Gagnon said.
“This is all part of the conversation we will have with City Council,” Bendon said of the divided response.
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Aspen’s dirty downtown alleys are enough of a blight that the city government is taking the initiative to clean them up this week.