Aspen OKs office ban
Aspen doesn’t need any more office space on the ground floor in its commercial core, a split City Council finally agreed Monday.New regulations in the core will ban additional offices. They will also increase the allowed density, or floor area, in downtown buildings – primarily to allow for affordable housing – and hike the height limit for buildings from 40 to 42 feet. A maximum height of 46 feet will be allowed for a top floor that’s set back at least 15 feet from the street.It was the prohibition of additional office space in what are considered prime retail spots, though, that divided the council and a handful of local business representatives in attendance.Mayor Helen Klanderud supported the changes except for the office ban. She voted against the ordinance enacting the code changes along with Councilman Terry Paulson, who supported the ban, but opposed the expanded height and floor-area limits.Councilman Tim Semrau opposed the office ban, but ultimately voted to approve the package of code changes along with colleagues Torre and Rachel Richards. “I’m not going to kill the whole thing just over that [the ban],” Semrau said.Existing office spaces in the core will be allowed to continue as nonconforming uses, and offices in split-level buildings that have no real ground floor will be exempt.”Try going for a loan when you’re nonconforming,” complained attorney Gideon Kaufman. “Nonconforming is a stigma you attach to a building.”No business will be kicked out, Richards said, but the ban will prevent a further proliferation of ground-floor offices, which have been fingered as detrimental to Aspen’s shopping experience.”We’re not seeing a further erosion of that retail base … I think that’s important,” she said.Calls for the office ban first arose two years ago when retailers were struggling and two prime retail locales, the former Eddie Bauer store and Aspen Drug, became timeshare sales offices, Semrau noted. Now, things are on the rebound without government intervention.”What happens in two years if something else doesn’t feel right – T-shirts, fur stores, art galleries?” he said.Klanderud questioned whether the office ban will boost the vitality of the core. There’s no evidence to support that contention, she said.Several retailers urged the move, though, while several business people with offices downtown voiced objections.”It’s much easier for people to shop if there’s places to shop,” said Shae Singer, owner of a pair of stores, including Living the Dog’s Life in Aspen on the Cooper Avenue mall.”I think some of this is a knee-jerk reaction,” said Bob Starodoj, echoing the stand of Bob George, his late partner at Mason & Morse Real Estate.Real estate sales contribute to the town’s coffers and the sales offices are a draw for tourists seeking all kinds of information, he said. “They’re not going to Prada.”The ban is “a little too governmental,” added Ernie Fyrwald of Morris & Fyrwald Real Estate.”I have to believe that capitalism and market forces are going to dictate what makes sense from a tenant standpoint,” he said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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