Aspen restaurants, retailers to get a break on right-of-way fees
The city of Aspen will waive a portion of fees that businesses will have to pay to take over public right-of-way space in order to expand restaurant seating and retail space as they adhere to COVID-19 public health orders.
The normal rate of $4.46 per square foot for those who use outdoor space, for example on the pedestrian mall, will be reduced to an amount the City Manager’s Office deems appropriate, Aspen City Council members agreed during a work session Tuesday.
Council members discussed between $1 and $2.23 a square foot, but deferred the dollar amount to City Manager Sara Ott.
Council members said they want the fee to be equitable for all businesses, yet it shouldn’t be free to occupy right-of-way space.
“I do think it’s fair to charge for public space that’s being privatized,” Councilwoman Ann Mullins said.
Other council members said people will value the space more if they pay for it, and didn’t support waiving fees entirely.
Council agreed on Monday to allow for partial street closures so restaurants and retail stores can occupy transformed parking spaces.
The right-of-way fee generates roughly $80,000 annually.
Ott told council that she is not concerned about revenue loss necessarily, and it could even out because additional space is being offered, thus more people will pay the fee.
She asked for guidance from council as business owners submit their site plans and need to develop pro formas on how much space they need relative to the cost.
Councilwoman Rachel Richards said she recognizes that businesses will have to spend more on umbrellas and tables and other items to operate outdoors, so a relief on the right-of-way fee is appropriate.
She suggested that the city should put money toward enforcement, since some restaurants and retail are playing loose with the rules placed on Aspen businesses as part of last week’s partial reopening of the economy.
“I think $1 a square foot is reasonable. … It gives us some revenues towards enforcement and towards potentially being able to hire someone to say ‘these are the boundaries, these are the rules,’” Richards said. “We really don’t have any mechanism for enforcement and I’d like to start looking at things such as being able to suspend someone’s liquor license if they are not following the appropriate protocols for social distancing, whether they are a bar or a restaurant.”
Ott noted that Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday voted to approve to fund 11 new positions to expand the COVID-19 public health team.
Those positions will tackle enforcement and contact tracing, as well as subject matter experts, consumer protection and communication.
She told council as part of her COVID-19 update that the city plans to spend $20,000 on “ambassadors” whose sole jobs will be to make sure the Aspen Saturday Market is a safe place to be when it runs from June 13 until mid-October.
They will ensure people will remain 6 feet apart and follow the one-way foot traffic for the all-agricultural market.
The money will be used from savings of not having Fourth of July fireworks, which have been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
The city’s summer camp will open next week with 10 kids, with the hope of expanding that as social distancing protocols are worked out.
City officials are working on opening half of the playgrounds and then taking a wait-and-see approach to the rest coming online.
They also are working on opening some city offices, along with portions of the Aspen Recreation Center, the Aspen Ice Garden and Aspen Youth Center.
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