Outdoor dining continues in downtown Aspen this winter
Aspen City Council allows two restaurant structures to remain; others will end their run Oct. 31
Aspen City Council agreed Monday to continue allowing some private use in the public right of way as part of its COVID-19 economic response but what will be different this winter is businesses are going to have to pay for it.
After considering different fee options presented by Mitch Osur, the city’s director of parking and downtown services, council landed on charging $0.59 a square foot in right-of-way space, which is predicated on three head-in parking spaces approximating 360 square feet.
That ends up being $6.98 a day, or $1,047 for an assumed 150 days of activation. It is based on the $100 a day that the city charges for a parking space for construction activity.
When unencumbered by construction or business activation, a parking space generates on average about $25 a day, according to Osur.
Existing structures taking up parking spaces, which are only three and include La Creperie, Meat and Cheese and Kemo Sabe, will be allowed to remain until May 1, and no new ones can be added to the downtown landscape.
In addition to the square footage fee, those existing businesses with outdoor structures will be subject to growth management and affordable housing mitigation fees and will be approved through an administrative temporary use review.
For those three businesses that have existing structures in parking spaces, the additional cost is around $5,000 depending on how much square footage their structures are and how long they will be activated in the public right-of-way.
“That’s a pretty screaming deal for these people,” Councilman John Doyle said. “I think why we are revisiting this is because COVID hasn’t gone away, and we didn’t want these people to take down the structures when they would have to rebuild them possibly again.”
Council also agreed to designate at no cost one parking space per block where a restaurant is located for pick up of takeout food.
If a restaurant wants its own dedicated space, it will have to pay the $0.59 per-square-foot fee, council decided.
Council members said it’s been difficult to enforce whether people park in dedicated takeout spaces for other reasons so it’s fair to offer one per block for multiple restaurants.
Currently there are 18 parking space dedicated for takeout, with most restaurants using two, according to Osur.
Staff had recommended that the city allow pick-up spots for restaurants that have seating for six people or less immediately adjacent to their businesses and charge a fee for bigger establishments.
“Our goal seems to be that we want to facilitate the ability for people to get to-go because of the pandemic we are in,” Mayor Torre said. “If that’s our goal, do we really need this charge?”
The use of parking spaces by restaurants and other businesses, such as bike rental shops and uncovered dining, will come to an end Oct. 31, council decided during Monday’s work session.
The use of sidewalks for business activation, like what Aspen Tap has been doing along Galena Street, also comes to an end Oct. 31.
If a restaurant seeks to activate on the pedestrian malls, they will pay the current $4.43 per-square-foot rate that establishments have been paying that use that right-of-way space.
Short-term retail operations will not be allowed on the street unless they are associated with a special event permit.
Temporary structures on private property, like Local Coffee House and Mezzaluna, can remain until May 1 and also will be subject to growth management and affordable housing mitigation, which will be approved through an administrative temporary use review.
All of the decisions that council made are part of the city’s vitality program, which was first instituted last summer when the local economy opened up with capacity restrictions. It was continued into the winter with variations and again this past summer.
The program was set to expire Oct. 31, and council had to pivot in the city’s activation strategies to level the playing field so all businesses are paying for the use of public space.
The changes will be formalized in a resolution that council is expected to approve in October, according to Phillip Supino, the city’s community development director.
“Also, it allows staff direction to work with the business community to respond to the changes through the regulatory landscape with respect to how we’re allowing businesses to navigate through the use of right of way,” he said.
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While Aspen’s upcoming winter season will contain echoes of last winter’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies, vaccines and booster shots will likely allow for a simpler set of guidelines this time around.