The summer streets of Aspen will have a very 2020 feel this year, as restaurants are allowed to continue to take up public sidewalks and parking spaces to increase dining capacity and spacing between customers.
The Aspen City Council gave the OK during the regular meeting Tuesday night, with some cautions for staff regarding safety and equity.
Last summer, 17 temporary structures were granted in an effort by the city to assist businesses struggling to reopen after a months-long quarantine, amidst an unknown summer tourist season. Community Development Director Phillip Supino told council that the staff time and fees waived to pull off the new cityscape equaled about $500,000 in support for downtown businesses.
“This has been a key element of our business support program,” Supino said.
He showed examples of the various techniques downtown restaurants employed to expand their dining outside their walls this summer and winter.
Styles ranged from locations like Aspen Tap and Tatanka using minimal overhead trellises to Jing, the Creperie and Mezzaluna building fully enclosed structures with doors and windows.
Aspen has strict land use codes that regulate everything from the look and size of new square footage, as well as mitigation requirements for those developments. He pointed out that the enclosed structures were not held to those parameters.
When speaking about equity, Supino said there is an inverse relationship between the cost of the range of enclosures that restaurants employed and the value it brought to the business.
Councilmembers too were worried about equity in right-of-way encroachment policies moving forward. Ann Mullins said those restaurants that had the ability to build new fully enclosed structures this winter on private or public spaces were at an advantage.
“It’s clearly an indoor space, and I think it's somewhat unfair to the restaurants who are not able to build an enclosed structure on the right of way,” she said.
Councilmember Rachel Richards said she was concerned about “how the other businesses adjacent or behind the temporary structure are affected.”
Overall, the five-member council was unanimously in support of another summer with extensions into the right of way for area dining establishments. Councilmembers uniformly removed fully enclosed structures from the list of allowable spaces but were open to a range of open-air options, or roofed structures with one or more sides open-air.
“I don't want to be creating more indoor space outdoors,” Mayor Torre said.
He also asked staff to work out compliance measures, as he said last summer he observed restaurants slowly add more and more tables to their allotted right-of-way space or expand beyond what was initially granted to them.
Mullins said the new dining options added value to what ended up being a boom tourist season amidst the pandemic. She encouraged businesses to incorporate their summer offerings into the look and feel of the building but said that overall the temporary structures added vibrancy downtown.
“I do think that all the different structures really did make the streetscape more interesting and activated,” Mullins said. “It was fun to see.”