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City eyes altering commercial zone

Allyn Harvey

The future of Aspen’s only affordable commercial district is on the table tonight, when the City Council considers changes to the zoning code.

Since the early 1970s, certain sections of town have been zoned Service/Commercial/Industrial (SCI), with the idea that certain kinds of businesses, such as repair shops and light manufacturing needed a separate space from the retail core. And for decades, businesses like Aspen Repair Service thrived in a store front at the base of Mill Street.

But in recent years, the types of businesses that the zoning was meant to help, including 26-year-old Aspen Repair Service, have been forced to relocate.

The sections of Aspen presently zoned SCI are around the intersection of Puppy Smith and Mill streets and the East Bleeker Street area below the Concept 600 condominiums. The SCI zone, which originated in 1971, represents about 10 percent of the total commercial area in the city.

The changing makeup of businesses in the SCI zone and the expansion of architect Harry Teague’s offices, which were allowed in about six years ago after Teague convinced the City Council to change the rules, have prompted a proposal to change the zoning.

“Harry Teague put on a big dog-and-pony show in front of the City Council and convinced them to permit architects as artists,” said Aspen Repair Service owner Tom McCabe. “He said he wouldn’t force anyone out, but he expanded downstairs and he has pushed people out.”

But Teague at least opened his shop legally. According to city records, several businesses that do not qualify have also managed to secure low-rent, SCI-zoned properties.

The City Council will be considering three possible changes, two of which include excluding architects from setting up any more “studios” on SCI-zoned properties.

“One unresolved issue from the work session,” reads a staff report from planner Chris Bendon, “centered around architectural offices.”

The planning department’s three recommendations include: not allow (architectural offices) but grandfather in all existing users; grandfather the percentage of zone devoted to (architectural offices) which allows that amount to be transferred around and within the zone; or, allow (architectural offices) as either a permitted or conditional use, but limit the size of the studio to encourage small businesses.

Bendon is recommending the council adopt the first proposal, partly because it would mean less staff time spent policing the SCI zones.

The proposed changes would allow all of “non-conforming” businesses to remain, but if they want to expand, they will need permission from the City Council.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. in council chambers.


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