Elected officials say Aspen’s alleys are a blight on town | AspenTimes.com

Elected officials say Aspen’s alleys are a blight on town

Kegs are stacked in the alley behind the Red Onion on Friday, March 6, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The city is making plans to clean up downtown Aspen alleys and hold people accountable for illegal dumping and storing of abandoned items.

But first the city has to tighten up laws that are on the books to make it clear whose responsibility it is to keep areas maintained and repaired.

Mitch Osur, the city’s director of downtown services and parking, said who to identify as the responsible party has been the source of heated discussions among a group that he’s put together made up of city staff, property owners, retailers and others to tackle the alley issue.

Because there is no monitoring of who dumps what in the alley or in trash receptacles, it’s difficult to answer.

Is it the business owner? Is it the building owner, or the property management company that should be fined when a couch gets dumped in alley?, Osur asked.

“People put stuff there and hope it will go away,” he said during Aspen City Council’s Tuesday work session on the topic. “Who is responsible for tickets and managing existing ordinances, and are the consequences severe enough to change behavior?”

In the coming months, the city will determine what party is responsible in those situations and establish a fine structure for violations.

Council signed off on a nine-month pilot program that will focus on one block of an alley that city staff will actively monitor and enforce.

Osur said he is not sure which one yet, but it will likely be one of the problem areas, which are off the two pedestrian malls.

He joked at council’s work session when pointing to a photo of kegs piled up behind a bar describing it as a “14er soon to be a 15er.”

Osur said anywhere else kegs piling up outside isn’t an issue because they are worth $30 a piece, but here there is no room for bars and restaurants to store them inside.

Having kegs and other random items like broken outdoor heating lamps or palettes stack up creates all kinds of problems, including blocking electrical transformers so crews cannot access them during outages, as well as blocking trash compactors and dumpsters, which prevents haulers from picking up garbage.

And when abandoned items and trash pile up, the city’s streets crew can’t remove snow, Osur pointed out.

“Snow removal is a gigantic issue,” he said. “We need the right equipment, we need the right people at the right time and that has been very difficult to do.”

Osur has been working on cleaning up the alleys for about five months, with the city sponsoring a “beautification day” in October in which 150 cubic yards of junk was removed from the 16 alleys in the commercial core, and over 60 containers of hazardous waste.

Beyond abandoned junk by unknown parties, businesses that have store opening events use the alleys as storage. Osur said Channel on Cooper Avenue Mall was the biggest violator this winter.

Also, trash containers are constantly overflowing in downtown alleys, Osur noted, and people respond by just throwing garbage around them.

He said the city’s effort needs to be centered on education, consistency in enforcement and accountability.

The pilot program will make an example of what a model alley could look like and what the city’s costs are to manage it.

Mayor Torre said it’s an effort worth engaging in for a number of reasons.

“I see this as something the city has to address in some way,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Our businesses and the intensity of downtown has outgrown our alleyways.

“Talk about not glamorous, but there are a lot of impacts coming out of this,” he continued. “So, I’m excited to see this program moving forward.”