Locals feel pinch of Aspen’s success
ASPEN ” Reacting to the disappearance of locally serving businesses in downtown Aspen, city officials are taking steps that would require developers to provide specific types of stores in new commercial buildings.
“Developers should pay their own way,” said City Councilman Jack Johnson on Tuesday. “We have things that people want, and they should pay a premium for it.”
The list of local businesses disappearing from Aspen’s commercial landscape continues to grow and the City Council for the past year has batted around several ideas that would stop the hemorrhaging. The goal is to increase the number of low-end spaces throughout downtown Aspen.
The City Council is leaning toward requiring developers to offer 30 percent of their commercial space to a specified use, which would be deemed appropriate by elected officials. That could include service-commercial-industrial (SCI) businesses, or be more narrowly defined, like a moderately priced restaurant or a laundromat.
When setting aside space in a building for local businesses isn’t feasible, developers would be required to pay a cash-in-lieu fee. The commercial mix program would be similar to the affordable housing mitigation requirements that developers have to provide now.
The program would most likely be managed by an economic development division of City Hall’s community development department.
City officials agree that Aspen’s commercial mix caters to tourists and not enough to the local community. And those tourist-oriented stores are typically high-end retail shops, which are replacing restaurants and businesses that cater to families.
Council members acknowledge that the government can’t control the free market or the resulting sky-high rents. But it can capitalize on Aspen’s economic drivers by requiring developers to provide locally serving establishments.
“We should be playing off the energy of the market, not against it,” said City Councilman Dwayne Romero.
Based on a survey city staff members did earlier this summer, in the commercial core as a whole, the number of office, home furnishings and clothing stores far out number restaurants, nightlife establishments and coffee shops ” more than 3 to 1. On the pedestrian malls, where it’s essential to have vitality, that ratio jumps 4 to 1, according to city officials.
The inventory in the commercial core zone district consists of 94 clothing and personal accessory stores, 34 home furnishings and accessories stores, 20 offices and six sundries shops. In the same area, 42 restaurants, coffee shops or nightlife establishments exist.
On the pedestrian malls, there are 10 restaurants, nightlife establishments or coffee shops, compared to 28 clothing stores, nine home-furnishing stores, four offices and one pet store.
It’s the same story in other commercial zones throughout Aspen.
As a result, city staff proposed earlier this summer to prohibit certain uses on pedestrian malls, urging elected officials to a make public policy statement that specific stores don’t belong there. Those would include exclusive designer and luxury brand merchandise, and jewelry stores.
City staff has done research in other cities throughout the United States that shows communities have gone so far as to ban high-end luxury stores, or create a cap on businesses that offer particular items like jewelry.
Council members all said on Tuesday that they weren’t interested in capping high-end retail or jewelry stores at this point in the process.
“I’m more interested in carrots [rather than sticks],” Johnson said, adding inclusionary zoning, public/private partnerships and other incentives for developers are the short-term priorities.
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