Citizens to weigh in on downtown business mix

Carolyn Sackariason
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” If Aspen citizens are interested in weighing in on how city government regulates what types of businesses should be downtown, or just want to eat a free lunch, they should head to the Hotel Jerome on Friday.

From 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., city officials will host a wireless keypad instant voting session that’s designed to hear public feedback regarding the mix of commercial uses in Aspen, and whether new regulations are needed.

It is one of the last topics left to debate from the moratorium established in December 2006.

The survey will ask attendees to define what the problems are, if any. A menu of 10 different options that could be instituted to regulate commercial uses and what their impacts would be also will be discussed.

The results of the session will be presented to the City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 25 as it considers new laws designed to keep locally-serving businesses downtown.

Mayor Mick Ireland said it’s one of the biggest issues facing the community and the resort as longtime businesses, particularly restaurants, continue to be redeveloped into high-end retail shops.

Ireland added he hopes the council will be able to pass a law regulating commercial use by the end of the year.

“We want to take steps to protect locally-serving businesses,” he said. “It’s not just for locals but it’s important for tourists too. Your first-time tourist isn’t necessarily here to go to Gucci.”

Based on a survey city staff members did earlier this summer, in the commercial core as a whole, the number of office, home furnishings and clothing stores far out number restaurants, nightlife establishments and coffee shops ” more than 3 to 1. On the pedestrian malls, where it’s essential to have vitality, that ratio jumps 4 to 1, according to city officials.

The inventory in the commercial core zone district consists of 94 clothing and personal accessory stores, 34 home furnishings and accessories stores, 20 offices and six sundries shops. In the same area, 42 restaurants, coffee shops or nightlife establishments exist.

On the pedestrian malls, there are 10 restaurants, nightlife establishments or coffee shops, compared to 28 clothing stores, nine home furnishing stores, four offices and one pet store.

It’s the same story in other commercial zones throughout Aspen.

As a result, city staff proposed earlier this summer to prohibit certain uses on pedestrian malls, urging elected officials to a make public policy statement that specific stores belong there. Those would include exclusive designer and luxury brand merchandise, and jewelry stores.

City staff also proposed to remove retail from the list of permitted uses on pedestrian malls and require any new applicant to meet several conditions if retail was to be put in a particular storefront.

Additionally, staff wants the city to make it easier and more attractive for restaurant owners to set up shop on the malls. That could be in the form of waiving city fees on building permits and liquor licenses.

Some city officials believe the ratio is somewhat out of balance with too much emphasis on office, clothing, home furnishings, and not enough on restaurant and nightlife uses that generate more vitality. They are particularly concerned that the pedestrian malls are even more out of balance than the rest of downtown as a whole.

It wouldn’t be the first time city government has regulated the downtown commercial mix. In recent years, the City Council passed a law that prohibits offices in street level storefronts.

City staff has done research in other cities throughout the United States that shows communities have gone so far as to ban high-end luxury stores, or create a cap on businesses that offer particular items like jewelry.

Ben Gagnon, City Hall’s special projects planner, said he expects up to 75 people to attend Friday’s keypad voting session. Their input will then be presented to the City Council next week.

“We have a lot of respect for those results,” Ireland said. “And, they give us a lot of ideas that we wouldn’t have thought about.”


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