City ready to ban new offices
A sharply divided Aspen City Council is ready to halt the further proliferation of ground-floor offices – not just on the downtown pedestrian malls, but throughout the roughly 10-block commercial core.
Existing office uses will be allowed to remain, but city staffers were directed Tuesday to draft legislation that would ban additional street-level offices, which some in the community blame for degrading the resort’s tourist experience.
An area bounded by Main Street, Durant Avenue, Monarch and Hunter streets would be affected.
Mayor Helen Klanderud and Councilman Tim Semrau opposed the approach, calling for market forces rather than city regulation to dictate the makeup of the commercial core.
Council members Rachel Richards, Torre and Terry Paulson all advocated government intervention, though, citing the recent findings of retail consultants who concluded any further spread of ground-floor offices should be prevented.
The issue of offices in prime retail spaces came to a head two years ago, when the former Aspen Drug and Eddie Bauer spaces became timeshare sales showrooms. The council resisted calls at that time for an emergency measure to ban offices from retail spaces.
The ban is a first step toward reinvigorating Aspen’s once-thriving retail scene, Paulson said.
“I don’t think this is a cure-all, but it is one step in the right direction,” Torre agreed.
Semrau and Klanderud were unconvinced.
“We have regulated this place to death so it’s not vital, and what’s the first step we’re going to take? Institute another regulation,” Semrau said.
Several representatives of the business community urged the council to adopt the ban, while two others who attended yesterday’s session opposed the move.
“We know in our hearts that Aspen Drug and Eddie Bauer are perfect retail corners,” said local planning consultant Stan Clauson, a member of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors. He called the conversion of both spaces to office use “a tragedy.”
“It’s a proven fact that retail provides that thread to pull people through a community,” said Andy Modell, owner of Aspen Catalogue and an ACRA board member. “Our visitor is displeased.”
Semrau suggested the council at least limit the regulation to the pedestrian malls and leave healthy retail areas – Galena Street and Cooper Avenue, for example – alone.
“Nobody knows what this is going to do,” he said.
“Why not protect those areas while they’re still healthy?” Richards countered. Limiting the ban to the malls would simply push offices into other areas of the core where they’re not currently a problem, she predicted.
Attorney Gideon Kaufman and Bob George, president of Mason & Morse Real Estate, both opposed the ban and the city’s intent to “grandfather” existing uses – making existing offices nonconforming uses within the commercial core.
“Putting the nonconforming burden on people is actually a huge burden,” Semrau agreed.
Council members directed staffers to come up with some method of addressing that problem.
The council also left up to staffers the quandary of defining the ground floor of Aspen’s numerous split-level buildings, where no floor is actually at street level.
Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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