Small victory for small business in Aspen?
July 7, 2012
ASPEN – It’s been a very different summer so far for Daniel Ferguson, owner of Sabra’s Deli in the North Mill Station commercial complex off Puppy Smith Street.
A year ago, Ferguson, whose eatery focuses on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern lunch and dinner fare, was told by Aspen city officials that zoning rules prevented him from placing a sandwich board on the interior sidewalk area outside of his eatery. Amid slow sales, he wanted to use the sign to attract attention from passers-by headed to Clark’s Market and other retail establishments in the shopping area.
His restaurant sits in a blind spot within the complex and is not particularly noticeable from the heavily traveled route between the parking lot and the grocery store.
Ferguson spoke out against what he believed to be a nonsensical regulation, discussing the matter in an Aspen Times story and letting city officials know how he felt.
Eventually, at a work session in late January, council members set a new direction for Community Development Department staff regarding signage for the North Mill commercial area – they decided it would be OK to allow sandwich boards.
The policy reversal sparked a big change for his business, the restaurateur said.
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“It’s absolutely helping; it’s made an immediate difference,” Ferguson said. “Since the story appeared last year, there’s been a lot of buzz and chat about it, and customers have expressed their support. It did take the city a while to pick up the issue; they had a few delays. I attended the work session along with a few other business owners with concerns about the sign regulations. This battle took us a long time.”
Under the zoning rules, the North Mill area is classified by two designations: neighborhood/commercial (NC) or service/commercial/industrial (SCI). Sandwich boards simply aren’t allowed in those zones. The regulation pre-dates the 2010 sign-ordinance rewrite, most of which was focused on tighter restrictions in the downtown’s commercial districts.
Those districts, the commercial core (CC) and commercial (C-1), are technically the only ones that allow sandwich boards, although there are now more stringent rules concerning their locations and frequency than there were a few years ago.
There also was a period of time after the recession hit that the city didn’t enforce many of its sign regulations in order to attempt to provide a temporary boost to local small businesses that were struggling amid a weak economy. As the economy began to improve in 2010, the city rewrote its sign codes and began to step up enforcement of the regulations.
Though council members recently decided that it didn’t make sense to ban sandwich boards in the North Mill area, they have yet to vote on a code amendment that changes the law. Chris Bendon, the city’s community development director, said his staff will recommend a change to the rules sometime in the next few months.
“There are some things we are going to tweak with the new sign code,” Bendon said.
In the meantime, Sabra’s Deli and other retailers in the North Mill area can display sandwich boards outside of their businesses without fear of citations, he said. Still, those who display sandwich boards must obtain a city permit, Bendon added.
“Council didn’t seem to be bothered at all by sandwich boards down there,” Bendon said. “It doesn’t seem to be a big issue with anyone. They want us to do some code clean-up.”
However, the city hasn’t completely caved in with regard to North Mill signage. The code amendments are likely to address LED and neon lighted signs, which some businesses in the area prefer. The city views some of those types of signs as unsightly, especially if they can be spotted far away from the store that’s using them.