Pitkin County to boost event support
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
ASPEN – Pitkin County should beef up both its enforcement of and its support for special events, county commissioners agreed Thursday.
Commissioners, convening solely to discuss county government’s role in special events, decided that the county won’t become an instigator and promoter of such activities but acknowledged that some financial support for events that greatly benefit the community would be appropriate.
“I do think we should have a strong, passive role in supporting special events,” Commissioner Rob Ittner said.
The support would likely come in the form of absorbing the cost of services provided by the Sheriff’s Office and Community Development Department in planning for, and staffing, big events such as this summer’s second running of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
Organizers of the bike race already have established that the event won’t pay for those services, so the city of Aspen has looked to the county to donate them. Commissioners agreed to do so.
Last year, the county was reimbursed for about $20,000 in services related to the bike race – $13,243 from the city and $7,000 from event organizer Medalist Sports.
The Winter X Games might be another event for which such support is warranted, commissioners indicated, though no request has been made. The future of the X Games at Buttermilk remains a matter of negotiation between organizer ESPN and Aspen Skiing Co.
Commissioner George Newman suggested that the county consider absorbing its costs for the sorts of events that bring the community national or international attention, such as the bike race and the X Games.
“That’s something we can’t buy. I think we have a role there to help support and participate,” he said.
His colleagues agreed, but Commissioner Rachel Richards urged the county to leave open the possibility of providing financial help to much smaller causes that commissioners deem worthy. Commissioner Jack Hatfield suggested $50,000 as a starting budget from which to subtract in-kind services or pay outright financial assistance. No one disagreed, but the actual sum may be subject to further discussion, Commissioner Michael Owsley concluded.
“It’s an investment and also being a partner in some of these events,” Hatfield said.
Whether there’s a limit to how many events the county can accommodate will be the focus of some longer-term analysis, but Newman suggested that a cap of some sort needs to be considered. Not every summer weekend should bring another special event to the Rio Grande Trail, he offered as an example.
“If every weekend there’s an event, it deters the ability for everyone else, just normal citizens, to be able to use it,” he said.
Hatfield objected to escalating use of the backcountry, rural areas and county Open Space and Trails properties for events.
The county planning staff currently reviews applications for what it terms major and minor events, but commissioners suggested some minor events are so minor, they shouldn’t need a permit. They directed staffers to come up with some criteria. Some events already don’t require a permit (think backyard wedding), according to county planner Mike Kraemer, but he admitted a “gray area” in defining what should and shouldn’t require permit review.
Temporary commercial uses in areas not zoned for a commercial use – the shooting of commercials and still photography for commercial purposes, for example, are considered special events, he said. Commercial photographers take photographs in the county all the time without a permit, Ittner countered.
Whether an event needs a permit or not, the county has little recourse when one occurs without a permit, or when one violates the conditions of a permit, commissioners were told. There is no ordinance that establishes penalties for violations.
A Bentley car commercial apparently shot during the recent Aspen Fashion Week escaped notice until county officials saw it on YouTube, according to Jon Peacock, county manager. And, he said, it made use of a helicopter, which the county strictly forbids.
“It is a little disappointing to hear about a helicopter shoot,” Richards said.
She agreed with fellow commissioners on the need for some teeth on the enforcement end of special-event permitting, but cautioned against being too heavy handed when it comes to monitoring compliance.
“The goal in my mind is not to be punitive as much as it is to incentivize compliance,” Richards said.
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ESPN’s Winter X Games is back in Aspen this week for the 20th straight year, although it’ll lack most of the usual flair. Out of precaution to safeguard against further spread of COVID-19, there won’t be any fans, any music and, well, really anything outside of the main competitions.