Council slows push to curb influx of real estate offices | AspenTimes.com

Council slows push to curb influx of real estate offices

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The push for an emergency zoning ordinance or moratorium to prevent the further influx of real estate offices in the commercial core hit a brick wall in the Aspen City Council chambers Monday.

While council members agreed that new downtown zoning regulations should receive careful consideration, most weren’t willing to rush the complex process.

“We cannot change the zoning for 12 square blocks and do it on a whim,” said Councilman Tony Hershey. “A rushed solution is no solution.

“You’re not going to stop Intrawest from coming to Aspen Drug.”

It was the news that the empty Aspen Drug space could become the latest storefront taken over by a real estate concern that fueled a call for action from local retailers.

Barry Gordon, a shop owner and Aspen Chamber Resort Association board member, convened an organizational meeting of the new Aspen Retail Merchants Association last week. He urged retailers to band together and demand quick action at City Hall to stem the conversion of retail space, which Gordon argues is degrading the shopping experience in Aspen and hurting tourism.

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“We all feel like some form of action should be taken now,” Gordon told the council. “The city of Aspen also has a perception, rightly or wrongly, that not much gets done.

“For once, we would like you to take action now.”

“One reason things don’t happen quickly is we listen to everybody,” said Councilman Tim Semrau.

“Sometimes, we listen to everybody over and over and over again,” added Mayor Helen Klanderud.

Semrau suggested city staffers should try to expedite the drafting of zoning regulations that are expected to come forward as part of a package of infill recommendations, but the council agreed any rezoning should receive plenty of public input.

Only Councilman Terry Paulson expressed interest in acting immediately on the retail group’s request.

“I think a thoughtful look at this problem is in order,” said Councilman Tom McCabe. “It affects a lot of people.

“It’s a complicated deal – there’s no quick fix for it.”

Several individuals, including a local time share owner and a merchant, urged the council to do something to enliven the commercial core.

It’s “just blah,” said Becky Dumeresque, owner of Chequers. “Walk down the mall at 8 or 9 at night. There’s no one there. That speaks volumes about this town.”

But other retailers cautioned the city against legislating what businesses should operate in what locations.

“I think the market needs to decide what kind of businesses we have,” said gallery owner Jay Magidson.

Ernie Fyrwald, a former retailer, suggested the council consider allowing storefronts in alleyways. Small alley shops could bring back the unique stores everyone is clamoring for, he suggested.

Various land-use code changes to accommodate “infill” development – projects that may bring new housing and commercial space into the town’s core – are currently being drafted. The current schedule would have the legislation before the Planning and Zoning Commission in early September.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com.