City continues Obermeyer Place rezoning talk to Nov. 9

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times

Aspen City Council, city staff and more than a dozen local business owners debated Aspen’s vitality and diversity during a discussion of rezoning Obermeyer Place at Monday night’s council meeting.

Obermeyer Place, located at 601 Rio Grande Place, contains a mix of residential, commercial, service and industrial uses as well as a fitness club.

Because of its current Service Commercial Industrial zone district requirements, Obermeyer Place unit owners have struggled to find tenants with businesses that fit the list of specific uses allowed by this zone district, according to a memo to the council from City Planner Technician Sara Nadolny.

“We’re currently operating with this ‘we’ll build and they’ll come’ mentality,” Nadolny said. “And it’s not working.”

Nadolny said rezoning Obermeyer Place to the neighborhood commercial zone district is a good fit for the city to provide more general categories and respond to legitimate business needs expressed by the community.

Community Development Director Chris Bendon added that rezoning Obermeyer Place addresses one of the city’s top-10 goals “to help local businesses overcome obstacles present in the community.”

Bill Murphy, who owns six properties in Obermeyer Place, said the parcel’s current requirements prevent businesses from growing and “stops vitality by restricting this kind of openness.”

Aspen Custom Woodworking Inc. owner Steve Anderson, whose business does meet the Obermeyer Place zoning requirements, agreed with Murphy and said that his business’ sales “have probably doubled” since moving from the Aspen Business Center into Obermeyer Place.

While all of the council agreed the requirements for the zone need to expand, the council differed on what exactly the new zone district requirements should entail.

Councilman Art Daily said he think it is time to bring additional diversity, vitality and flexibility to “this neat building.”

Daily said he “was really impressed with the broad base of support” the application has from various tenants on both the residential and commercial side.

“That speaks volumes to me about what an appropriate expansion and permitted use should look like,” Daily said.

Councilwoman Ann Mullins agreed with Daily, and said that along with the list of rejected applicants, the number of tenants at the meeting to expressing their support of the rezone “is most telling.”

Councilman Adam Frisch expressed his concern of increasing rent due to increasing demand.

“I think we really need to think about the long-term economic consequences for next generation of people that want to come in,” Frisch said.

Mayor Steve Skadron agreed with Frisch’s argument and said he was willing to further discuss the topic and “remove any impediment to vibrancy and success down there.”

As a possible solution to this, Bendon said the council could eliminate the inclusion of professional office space permitted within a neighborhood commercial zone district for Obermeyer Place

“I think we’re making a really, really big decision, … and I want to make sure there are no regrets and full digestion for everyone in room,” Frisch said.

The City Council motioned to continue the discussion to a Nov. 9 council meeting.

Skadron asked Obermeyer Place Director of Operations Jerome Simecek, who filed the application, and Bendon to attempt to craft language under the neighborhood commercial zoning “that attempts to address the issues we have” and achieve a solution.

Simecek said he understands the council’s concerns and decision to defer the vote, but that he would like the issue to stay at the forefront of the council’s agenda.

Skadron thanked everyone at the meeting who expressed concern and encouraged the public to email him or Simecek directly before the Nov. 9 meeting.

“I’m interested in hearing your thoughts,” Skadron said, to which Frisch joked that the council “rarely asks for more emails.”