Aspen City Council on Monday tentatively agreed to consider installing small patio areas in place of parking spaces downtown to encourage pedestrian activity and provide more outdoor dining.
If council gives the final go-ahead, city staff will install the patios, called “parklets,” before the winter season’s end as part of an experiment to prioritize pedestrian and bicycle use over cars downtown. Developing a master plan to address the issue is one of council’s top 10 goals for 2013.
The main parking spots being considered for parklets are located on Hopkins Avenue between Mill and Monarch streets, which is known as “Restaurant Row.”
The idea is that the parklets, which are fairly inexpensive to build, would temporarily replace parking spaces, said Chris Bendon, the city’s community development director. That could in turn increase the vitality of downtown because it would provide more outdoor space for pedestrians, Bendon said.
The newly created dining area swould be offered to adjacent restaurants for a fee, he said. Pricing would be modeled off of the system the city currently uses to fill the patio space on the Hyman Avenue mall, he said. Bendon declined to go into specifics about the fees because that information will be presented in greater detail at a future work session, he said.
Councilmen Adam Frisch and Torre had reservations about experimenting with parklets. Frisch argued that other municipalities use them to create a pedestrian friendly “breathing space” in urban settings that are surrounded by concrete. Aspen doesn’t have that problem, he said.
Torre argued that if the city provided a new outdoor dining area to one restaurant over another, the extra space could give that business an unfair advantage. It also would negatively impact surrounding eateries because they would suffer from having one less parking spot for potential customers, he said.
“I just have a concern about this,” Torre said. “I think of the ways to reduce auto traffic and encourage pedestrian [use]; this is probably not my first choice.”
Mayor Mick Ireland was in favor of trying the parklets. They could turn out as successful as the patio space on the Hyman Avenue mall, which also started as an experiment, he said.
“What will be the outcome of the experiment?” Ireland asked rhetorically. “I don’t know. It’s an experiment and I think we ought to try it.”
Councilman Derek Johnson agreed with Ireland and suggested that staff reach out to local businesses and ask them if they would be open to the idea before coming back to council with a proposal. Although a date hasn’t been set, the concept will be presented in more detail in a work session this month or in early February.
Council’s other top 10 goals for 2013 include creating a smoother process for start-up businesses, participating in an alliance with other local agencies to create an affordable and accessible health insurance model and working with housing associations to help them fully fund their individual capital reserves.