Members of Aspen City Council were in agreement on Monday that the key to identifying what nurtures small-business growth is public outreach.
The discussion came as council unanimously approved a resolution that attempts to simplify the process for starting a new business in Aspen by changing technical definitions of items in the city’s land-use codes like “brewery” and “design studio.” One of council’s top 10 goals for the year is to make the municipal government more business friendly.
Changing a few definitions in the land-use code is just scratching the surface of what needs to be done in order to help businesses flourish, said Councilman Torre. The city should have a community dialogue on what kind of policies grow businesses, he added.
“I think this is so much more than just a land-use issue,” Torre said.
He used the Aspen Saturday Farmer’s Market as an example. This year, the city has received more applications for new vendors than it has in the past. Staff should be working closely with those new applicants to see how the market could help their small businesses grow and then use that information to determine who gets a booth in the future.
The city should not just welcome new businesses, but it should help them make their start, Torre said.
Councilman Derek Johnson agreed that there are ways to expand the efforts beyond language changes to the city’s land-use code.
“I look at this as a jumping off point for future discussions,” Johnson said of the resolution.
For example, there should be a city staff member whose job it is to educate new business owners on the city’s rules and fee structures for opening a shop, Johnson said.
Councilman Adam Frisch argued that it’s important to reach out to current businesses as well in order to have a grasp of how policy changes impact them.
Councilman Steve Skadron questioned whether streamlining the process could impact the character of the community negatively by making it easier for pop-up shops to open in Aspen.
“I’d like to believe that there was good intention behind some of the rules and regulations in place,” Skadron said. “... I want to understand the whole picture. Not just [respond because] we’re here today and there’s some difficulty.”
Community Development Director Chris Bendon argued that most of the changes are about making things transparent in order to reduce the level of frustration. For example, the city can bundle start-up fees or create a welcome package for new businesses that explain some of the more eccentric city codes like its sign rules, Bendon said. The regulations would still exist but they would just be easier to understand, he said.
“It’s tough enough [to start a business],” Bendon said. “We should be clear about what we need and provide a bit more guidance to folks.”
Bendon noted that the resolution passed on Monday wasn’t comprehensive, but serves as a precursor to a larger discussion on the topic, which council will have in an upcoming work session.