Too early to tell…
Horizontal zoning isn’t going anywhere in Crested Butte. On Monday night, September 15, the Crested Butte Town Council reaffirmed its commitment to the sometimes controversial ordinance, which limits office space inside buildings along Elk Avenue or within 40 feet of the main commercial thoroughfare. Mayor Alan Bernholtz asked that a review of the ordinance be conducted since it had been about a year since council approved the action.
According to a staff memo, 16 properties in the effected B-1 and B-3 zones have changed occupancy since 2007 when the ordinance was passed. Of two properties that were vacant, one became a yoga studio, while the other became a single-family residence. Several of the 16 changed from one business to another, while six went from real estate or property management businesses to being vacant.
According to Crested Butte building and zoning director Bob Gillie, the fact that none of the businesses that vacated their spaces asked to be grandfathered in leads him to believe that the office-use vacancies “aren’t necessarily related to the ordinance but rather to national economic conditions and a downturn in the real estate market.”
Gillie said the staff recommended that the council not make major changes to the ordinance until clearer conclusions can be drawn about its effect on business occupancy and sales tax revenue in the business zones.
Property owners Rob Fessenden and Chuck Cliggett both asked for council help with their particular situation. Cliggett is a part owner in the Somrak Plaza and he said the town staff is interpreting that both his slightly below-ground-level floor and his slightly above-ground-level floor come under the ordinance and not allow office space. “Our entire building would then be subject to the horizontal zoning ordinance,” he said. “We understand the first floor coming under the ordinance, but not the second.”
Cliggett asked for more extensive time at another meeting to plead his case, but Bernholtz asked him to try to work out a solution with the town staff first. Cliggett said he would get together with the staff soon.
Fessenden has been a longtime critic of the ordinance at the west end of Elk Avenue, where he owns property. He said trying to legislate retail onto the zero block of Elk Avenue was a bit ridiculous. “I used to think horizontal zoning was a bad idea at that end of Elk Avenue, but now I think it is a bad idea anywhere,” he said. “If you want people to go up there to the zero block, let the property owners rent it to whoever will take the space and get activity going up there.”
Fessenden told the council he also felt Crested Butte was giving “lip service” when they promised to help improve that area if it was going to come under the ordinance. “I think we got one flower pot up there,” he said. “I’d rather not see anything done up there and the ordinance eliminated but if you insist on horizontal zoning up there, do what you said you were going to do and take care of it. Do some landscaping and keep up with the snowplowing in the winter.”
The council agreed with Gillie that the ordinance hadn’t been in place long enough to make a valid evaluation. No one wanted to make any changes to the ordinance but agreed to continue monitoring its impact on the town’s primary business zone.