City amends zone, architects can stay |

City amends zone, architects can stay

John Colson

Architects won’t have to move their offices, and artists can stilllive in their studios in the much-debated “service/ commercial/industrial” zone district, following action by the Aspen CityCouncil on Monday night.After more than a year and a half of controversy and fine tuning,the City Council approved amendments to the SCI zone, intendedto help locally oriented service businesses avoid being drivenout of town by rising rents.”I think that this strikes a reasonable compromise,” said MayorJohn Bennett. “It doesn’t gore anybody’s ox too badly.”Revisions to the zone came up originally because of complaintsthat architectural firms, food-service outlets, retail storesand other “non-conforming businesses” were moving into the zoneand driving up rents because they could afford to pay higher rates.But the targeted businesses maintained that they were as appropriateas any other located in the special zone. Architect Harry Teague,for instance, argued that he participated in local public affairs,and that his business contributes regularly to local arts andcultural organizations.The SCI zone was established in 1971, affecting only the neighborhoodof businesses bordering North Mill Street, and the pocket of servicebusinesses along the eastern end of East Bleeker Street. Althougharchitectural offices were not an allowed use originally, thelaw was amended in the late 1980s to permit architects to locatethere.Subsequently, lax enforcement of the zoning requirements led tothe incursion of other businesses not covered by the law, promptingthe current efforts at revision.”We tweaked the ordinance,” confirmed former council member BillTuite, who was on the council the last time the zone was modified.He noted that the change was largely made to accommodate Teague’sclaim that his business was similar to that of an artist’s studio,which was allowed under the zoning classification.”If we could go back and rezone the entire town, we’d certainlydo it differently,” Tuite said at last night’s council meeting.He noted that Aspen’s commercial areas are rapidly being takenover by boutiques, national chains and other high-end, tourist-orientedbusinesses with deep pockets that can afford to pay rents farbeyond the means of local service businesses.In the end, the council approved a zoning amendment that allowsexisting “nonconforming” businesses to stay there, and even allowsother, similar businesses to take their place if the existingbusinesses go under. The nonconforming businesses cannot expand,but they can move about within the zone.The amended law also allows for a certain amount of residentialuse within the zone, which traditionally has been the case withartist’s studios and other operations.The list of “permitted uses” includes a variety of business operations,ranging from auto repair to locksmiths, animal grooming to warehouses,and “other similar uses considered appropriate” by the directorof the Community Development Department.A key provision of the amendment, passed after some discussion,calls for the city’s zoning enforcement officers to monitor what’sgoing on in the SCI zone to avoid further erosion of its purposeby inappropriate businesses.

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