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Temporary moratorium on business licenses to be considered

Looking to protect business district from potential incoming franchises 

By Alissa Johnson

The Crested Butte Town Council will consider a temporary moratorium on new business licenses for what it’s calling formula restaurant and retail businesses. It’s part of an effort to protect local business. The concern has been raised that more chain businesses will come to town as a result of the ski resort’s acquisition by Vail. The idea behind the moratorium is to allow the council to consider how to protect the current business district without the pressure of a pending application.

“I understand the council is interested in the possibility of studying a way to protect the existing retail uses on Elk Avenue because of the recent acquisition of the ski area by Vail Associates and issues in other towns where Vail has acquired ski areas,” said town attorney John Sullivan at the council’s September 4 meeting.

He continued, “Our thought was if the council wants to move forward with that type of ordinance or discussion, it’s possible that you could enact some sort of moratorium in the interim to give you a breathing spell.”

Sullivan suggested that it may be better to be pro-active.

“My understanding is that Park City was reactive, and had the core character of their downtown business district changed a little bit,” he said. “After all this analysis you may decide that’s okay, but it’s a fairly unique business district within a National Historic District and so there are valid reasons to examine this issue if the council wants to move forward.”

Town manager Dara MacDonald also pointed out that one of the council’s priorities for 2019 was to look at a ban on new formula/franchise retail and restaurant businesses on Elk Avenue. As there is no current regulation regarding franchises in Crested Butte, the moratorium would give the council time to define what they meant by formula-based/franchise retail and restaurant businesses and decide if they wanted to enact any limitations.

Councilmember Jim Schmidt noted that, “In Park City this was asked for by the business district community. I would really like to get our business community… and Chamber members involved and tell them this is not something we’re trying to force down upon them, but something the business community brought [forward] in Park City.”

“A moratorium is an ordinance,” MacDonald explained. “It would go through two readings and have that time built in for public conversation.”

“Is a moratorium on business licenses accomplishing what we need?” asked councilmember Kent Cowherd. “I understood from Park City that it wasn’t a moratorium on business licenses, it was on franchises themselves, like SmartWool or Helly Hansen coming in and buying out current, locally owned businesses.”

“The moratorium is just a timeout,” responded MacDonald.

She responded, and pointed out that the council would have to demonstrate it was working toward a decision. “You have to have a defined timeframe.”

“The moratorium is not magic,” Sullivan added, “but it gives you that chance to do it without facing the pressure of a pending application.”

“It’s always better to craft a policy not in response to a specific person or business,” said councilmember Jackson Petito. “I would personally like to see a first reading at the next meeting if possible.”

Councilmember Chris Haver wanted to consider businesses on Sixth Street between Sopris and the Wine House in addition to Elk Avenue, which led to discussion about which zones to include.

MacDonald confirmed that the staff could draft the moratorium broadly, including a wider area, and the council could debate the particulars during review.

“I think broadly we don’t want to ban franchises because we already have some that exist,” Cowherd said. “We want to identify those, understand what percentage they are currently and like Park City did, limit that as a percentage.”

“That’s part of the discussion,” MacDonald said.

“They used 15 percent,” Schmidt said about Park City.

“Again, this is the conversation that you need to have. You’re going to go through a lot of machinations,” MacDonald said.

“Like I said, my biggest concern is a buy-in from the business community,” Schmidt said, as the council started to debate the particular concerns they’re trying to address and whether it has worked in other places. Ultimately, staff directed the council to continue the discussion once there is a draft moratorium to review.

“There’s a lot of conversation around this issue that needs to take place, which is why we are recommending a moratorium,” MacDonald said.

The council will review a draft moratorium at its September 17 meeting, with a second reading and a public hearing scheduled for October 1.

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