The Nugget Gallery has been selling local artwork in an odd-shaped office building hallway in downtown Aspen for two years via a temporary business permit, but if gallery owner Ross Kribbs were to make the space permanent under existing city rules, he would have to shell out more than $100,000 in fees, according to the city planning department.
Such an expense is untenable for Kribbs, who sells some of his own photographs, along with other works, in the 300-square-foot space located in a ground-floor hallway in the Hyman Avenue mall building housing the Aspen/Snowmass Sotheby’s real estate offices, as well as the subterranean Finbarr’s pub. The space has a large skylight.
Aspen City Council at a meeting earlier this month renewed Kribbs’ temporary use permit until July, but the city’s planning office is recommending that the extensions end after that. Planning office director Chris Bendon said there is an equity issue, because there are many other art galleries in town that are in official commercial spaces that have paid the development fees the city requires. No such mitigation fees have ever been paid for the Nugget Gallery space, since it is in a hallway that is officially considered a common area.
To give the Nugget Gallery the distinction of being an official commercial space, substantial affordable housing mitigation would have to be paid, which would total around $100,000, Bendon said, citing the city’s current formula that estimates around 4.1 employees are generated per 1,000 square feet of retail commercial space. The city requires new projects to provide housing, often through cash-in-lieu fees, for 60 percent of those new employees.
Kribbs, a local resident, sees his gallery as the type of quirky messy vitality city leaders say they want.
The gallery has created something out of nothing, Kribbs said, likening it to “infill without bulldozers.”
The space is also unlike other commercial galleries, Kribbs said, because it is in a hallway, which building occupants use all day for their comings and goings. As such, the gallery is not staffed — by either Kribbs or a friend — until the evening.
Bendon cautioned that there are other common areas in Aspen buildings that could double as retail spaces. If Kribbs’ gallery gets an exemption from mitigation fees, other with similar spaces are likely to come forward, and the city could have a bigger issue on its hands, Bendon said.
For Kribbs, there is something irrational about his space having to play by the same mitigation rules as high-end retailers in prime locations.
Bendon said the Nugget Gallery conundrum speaks to an on-again-off-again city desire to encourage and provide incentives for “locally serving business.” The problems always come, Bendon said, once you sit down to define what that means.
Kribbs said he’s willing to “box himself in” with various restrictions if the city were to allow him to continue in his space without paying the mitigation. For example, he said he’d be willing to adhere to a policy that he only sells local art, partners with local nonprofit groups and is only open in the evening.
He said he’s hoping to meet independently with city council members and other officials in order to craft a solution that works.
At the meeting this month, Aspen Councilman Derek Johnson said he hopes everyone can figure out a way forward.
“I think we need to figure out how to make this work,” he said. “This is small business, entrepreneurship, someone taking a risk and a chance.”