Food truck at Aspen’s Rio Grande Park a go
Now the city has to find a vendor willing to set up shop for just the summer
Aspen City Council on Tuesday took the most direct, non-bureaucratic method to allow one or more food truck vendors to operate in front of Rio Grande Park this summer.
Council members agreed during their regular meeting to circumvent the city’s land-use code prohibiting vending in public right of ways by allowing City Manager Sara Ott to execute a specific vending agreement with a yet-to-be-determined operator.
City staff will solicit providers and Ott can enter into an appropriate agreement for the use of up to three parking spaces in front of the former Taster’s Pizza location.
Council last month decided that offering a temporary affordable food option was appropriate given that the city has not finished the space where the former restaurant was, which closed in 2019 to make way for the city’s renovation of the Rio Grande building for municipal offices.
There is no prioritization of the restaurant space being finished as the city has other government buildings that are in the queue to be renovated, like the Old Power House and Armory.
The city’s land-use code requires that all outdoor food and beverage vending must be on private property and cannot inhibit the movement of pedestrian or vehicular traffic along the public right of way.
Outdoor food and beverage vending are allowed in the commercial core, commercial, neighborhood commercial, or commercial lodge zone districts, and may occur on public property that is subject to an approved mall lease, according to the land-use code, which was updated in 2013.
There was public discussion at that time about the appropriateness of food trucks in commercial zones from an aesthetic and business equity standpoint, leading to the adoption of the current regulations, according to CJ Oliver, the city’s director of environmental health and sustainability
Some council members expressed concerns about competing with other businesses that offer affordable food options but said they are OK with testing the concept for the summer.
“I’m concerned about how this might affect a number of locations across the street and within a very short distance from this location,” Councilman Ward Hauenstein said. “I could support perhaps for the summer and if staff has the capacity … to have a truck park by the Rio Grande.”
Council agreed to giving staff flexibility in working out the details.
Assistant City Manager Diane Foster said staff will prepare a request for proposals, see what kind of interest there is and work out details like hours of operation and prices.
“I think we as staff can definitely look and go, ‘A $20 burrito is probably not going to cut it,’ and we don’t expect a vendor is going to be able to provide a $5 burrito in this market,” she said.
Council could have chosen more complicated ways to address the prohibition of vending in public rights of way, such as amending the planned development approval for the City Hall campus area to allow for food trucks in the non-commercial, public zone, which is the underlying zoning for the area.
Depending on the complexity, that process could’ve either gone through administrative review or would’ve needed to be reviewed through the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Staff estimated that an administrative review would take a minimum of three weeks and a full P&Z review would take at least a month.
Council also could’ve amended a section in the land-use code to include the plaza area as a specific lease area, like the mall or on public property outside of the commercial zone districts.
But council acknowledged the strain put on existing staff by adding extra work to what is already a laborious agenda that elected officials have given the short-handed administration, so it opted for the simplest option.
“I can’t apologize enough for asking for more and more and more from staff,” Mayor Torre said. “Hopefully this will be a fun adventure, hopefully this will be some of that messy vitality.”
On Monday night, the City Council listened to ideas for each old building. However, nothing laid out what the community space would actually entail — only aspirations and gathered community comment.