Council cracks down on Aspen chains
The Aspen City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance Monday making it more difficult for chain retailers to set up shop here in the future.
Council members, the mayor and advocates of Ordinance 6 conceded that the legislation is a lighter version of what was originally envisioned, but over the long term it would achieve its desired effect of tempering the influx of national and international high-end retailers occupying prime retail space.
The ordinance will apply to Aspen’s downtown core as well as the historic district of Main Street.
The legislation would regulate future chain stores, or formula retailers, which the ordinance defines as having 11 or more locations that also meet criteria concerning standardized merchandise, services, signs, facades and other elements.
The ordinance does not ban chains. However, stores meeting the criteria would have to undergo a conditional land-use review by the Planning and Zoning Commission, which would have the authority to allow or reject them.
The ordinance wouldn’t apply to existing buildings, approved structures or developments that are in the city’s review pipeline.
Simply put, if Prada were to move out of its current location, another chain could replace it without going through a special review, or Peach’s could become a Banana Republic, said Community Development Director Jessica Garrow.
However, any building that is torn down and replaced would be subject to the ordinance, as well as any structure that expands its net leasable space by 500 square feet or its floor area by 250 square feet.
“It’s not a daring (ordinance), but I think it’s a smart thing and I think our community thinks it’s in our best long-term interest,” said Bill Stirling, a former Aspen mayor who worked with another former mayor, John Bennett, and venture capitalist Jerry Murdock on introducing the regulations to the council in November.
The trio pounded the council with the message that Aspen is losing its economic diversity and Ordinance 6 is a small but vital step toward reversing that trend.
“This is the lightest touch we could come up with,” Murdock said, adding, “I feel it’s something we’ll look back on in 20 years and be glad we did it and be really happy we did it.”
Murdock said high-chain stores are “spreading like cancer through the whole town.”
Feedback has been generally in favor of the ordinance, but it has had its detractors.
Among them are the Commercial Core and Lodging Commission, whose member Bill Dinsmoor spoke against the ordinance. Likewise, Brooke Peterson, CEO of Ajax Holdings real estate development firm, called the ordinance “discriminatory” and hinted that it could spark litigation. Realtor Lorrie Winnerman suggested that the city scrap the ordinance and buy a commercial building to house local retailers. The city would select them, she offered, by putting them through a “Shark Tank” contest of sorts.
Building owner Peter Fornell also contended that unintended consequences would result, such as landlords holding out for chain stores that would pay higher rent instead of local business that would pay less.
The council, however, concluded that they were willing to take the risks in the name of making a statement.
“It sends the clear message that there’s no question that we care about our community and we want to preserve it to the degree that we care about our intimateness and our historic character,” Councilman Art Daily said.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins was traveling and did not attend the meeting.
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The city of Aspen’s office building is exempt from paying encroachment fees, yet private developers have to now pay $9 a square foot, per month, starting in 2020.