Business Monday: Mill Street businesses live in limbo
March 11, 2018
For businesses at the Mill Street Commercial Center, their tenancy has been in a fragile state for more than 11 years, and the recent postponements of a public hearing regarding zoning changes to the two-building complex simply reflects the waiting game they continue to play.
Owners of the two buildings at 465 and 557 N. Mill St. — which house a smorgasbord of businesses that include Aspen's only public coin-operated laundromat, a second-hand sports store, a shipping businesses, an auto mechanic and other concerns — want to redevelop the property, which effectively would displace the tenants.
But there's a catch, and a mighty significant one, for that to happen.
Both buildings are zoned service-commercial-industrial. Commonly referred to as SCI, a 1975 Aspen City Council ordinance made that zoning distinction so that local businesses could offer services without breaking the bank paying the same type of rent that's commanded in the downtown core.
The other properties zoned SCI in Aspen are Obermeyer Place, the lumberyard parcel off of Highway 82 near the Aspen Business Center, and the Andrews MacFarlin parcel on Mill Street.
Brad Jasicki, who has owned the Replay Sports consignment shop at 465 N. Mill St. since 2003, said he considers his business a service to the community. That's because it's a place where locals can drop off their older sports goods for sale, and a place where folks on a tight budget can seek out affordable deals on ski and snowboard equipment, bicycles and other athletic products.
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"I've stressed out over the zoning for the last six years, because of the uncertainty of what's going to happen to this building," said Jasicki, whose store is located on the front facade of 465 N. Mill St.
Both 465 N. Mill St. and 557 N. Mill St., which are adjacent to each other, have gone through a series of ownership changes since 2007. The properties currently are owned by North Mill Street Investors, which includes Aspen developers Andy and Nikos Hecht. Both buildings were acquired for a combined $20 million in 2007. The 465 building has 20,645 square feet of net leasable space, and the 557 building has 7,990 square feet of space available for lease.
The land-use application to rezone the property to mixed-use has been pending since July 2017, while North Mill Street Investors also has sued both the city government and City Council over changes to its land-use code that prohibit the development of free-market residential in SCI zones. The suit is pending before Pitkin County District Judge Chris Seldin, with a status conference on the matter scheduled March 22.
In the meantime, the group's rezoning application remains pending before the Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission, which had hearings scheduled for January and March postponed, with April 3 the next scheduled date.
Aspen-based planing firm BendonAdams is handling the rezoning application. Its request argues that some SCI zone districts are not longer meeting their original intention by trending away from industrial and light industrial uses "and toward more office-type uses, specifically in the area of architecture."
"There are spaces in these Mill Street buildings that have not housed a traditional SCI in decades," the application continues.
The application also suggests that a mixed-use building — which would allow office, commercial, residential service, civic and public uses — would be consistent with the surrounding neighborhoods.
Planner Chris Bendon, who is representing North Mill Street Investors, could not be reached for comment last week.
Kyle Oberkoetter, owner of the MPS packing and shipping business at 465 N. Mill St., said rezoning of the property would "put everybody out of business."
"As property owners, they obviously want to maximize the value of this piece of land, which I understand," he said, noting he "hopes the city stands up" to the rezone request.
Jasicki suggested the rezone request is a symptom of buyer's remorse by North Mill Street Investors.
"I think it's sad that the people who paid too much for the building now want to change the zoning because they can't make it," he said.
The razing and replacing of the building, which is inevitable with a zone change, would also take a toll on locals who currently use its service, he said.
"There will never be an option to wash your clothes in Aspen," Jasicki said.