While the city of Aspen is entertaining ideas to potentially close or modify public streets and right-of-ways in order to accommodate expanded outdoor dining options, the Woody Creek Tavern — in unincorporated Pitkin County — has been working with officials to identify ways it also can capitalize on the notion.
Not that Hunter S. Thompson’s old hangout is expecting much capital from said opportunity, but it’s likely much better than the alternative, which as of now, anyway, is to look forward to probably being able to reopen May 27 at 30% capacity.
Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Assistant Director Suzanne Wolff updated county commissioners on her communications with the Woody Creek Tavern ownership during a work session on Tuesday, though she noted that she knew most of the elected officials likely were already made aware of the situation by the proprietors themselves.
“They already know they will not be able to have the same capacity they have today, even if they spread out tables,” she said. “It’s not even that they could be at 100% capacity by moving tables into these additional areas; they’ll just be doing basically as much as they can.”
Rather, the ownership behind the eatery and watering hole — which also is popular among bicyclists for its bathroom facilities, regardless of whether they’re also stopping in for a margarita, she noted — is seeking an amended approval from the county to occupy a broader area: the adjacent community room and additional patio space.
“To have people waiting, they would need to push that, basically, to across the street, so we started to talk about right-of-way issues,” Wolff continued. “I think the liquor licensing, the state has issued information on how to temporarily expand their service area, but for us, it was more of a question of how do we pull all these pieces together to try to help move things forward?”
Generally, there was broad consensus from commissioners that the county should be supportive of any reasonable and safe measures that would allow restaurants to open at as much capacity as possible.
But that doesn’t mean a blanket option could be crafted in a one-size-fits-all capacity, though, as specifics would have to be ironed out on a case-by-case basis, Commissioner Steve Child pointed out.
“Whatever we can do to accommodate them and stay within the practical rules we have to be, and also make sure they have their whole management plan so it fits within our guidelines is of course a critical part of it,” he said.
And because much of unincorporated Pitkin County is geographically and, in some ways, culturally distanced from Aspen, there are other considerations to ensure individual communities felt heard in any process, Commissioner George Newman added.
“I can think of some examples up in Redstone ... that may actually involve the neighbors, the [Crystal River] Caucus or the Redstone Business Council,” he said. “We want to try to expedite this, but we have to be cognizant of any community impacts, as well.”
Such nuances speak to the reasons the county Board of Health recently directed County Manager Jon Peacock to file an application with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for a local exemption from statewide directives.
In fact, he submitted seven, as he outlined during Tuesday’s meeting.
“We have to ask for specific exemption from existing public health orders,” he offered as explanation for the number of variance applications.
Gov. Jared Polis — whose office on Monday unveiled a draft plan for restaurants’ reopening dine-in options — has repeatedly assured he would update the public about the status of the statewide safer-at-home order on Monday, which is Memorial Day.
Currently, that safer-at-home order is set to expire on May 27.
“I think for everyone that is requesting variances right now, the anticipation right now is the safer-at-home order will be continued — at least portions of it will — and so would variances, if they’re applicable,” Peacock said.
While those variances would, if granted, potentially soften some of the state’s current caps on group sizes and could allow businesses to shift from a percentage of capacity to instead measure permissible operations in terms of ability to maintain physical distancing on premises, the ideal situation is one in which the county could follow state guidelines.
Peacock said he’s watching those evolving guidelines closely.
“There is conversation happening at the state level, too, to allow liquor licenses to be quickly approved — that will be applicable to requests for restaurants,” Peacock said Tuesday. “I know some of you have received requests from Woody Creek Tavern. What do we need to do to allow that outdoor seating?”
If the current draft guidelines released by Polis’ office are any indicator, restaurateurs should begin spacing tables at least eight feet apart, implementing reservation systems that restrict parties to no more than six people and expecting to require that staff take breaks to wash their hands at least every 30 minutes and wear facial coverings and gloves.
Just like there is not yet an official date when restaurants will be able to begin practicing those guidelines, though, Peacock said his staff has not yet received word from the state health department about when the county can expect an answer regarding the variance requests.
“We have not heard from the state on any timeline yet as to when we can expect a response on that application,” he said.