Businesses generally support Elk Avenue reconfiguration

Council to make decision in March

[ By Mark Reaman ]

More than a dozen Crested Butte business owners Zoomed in together Tuesday morning to give feedback to town planners on what Elk Avenue should look like next summer and most appeared to be in favor of repeating last summer’s one-way reconfiguration but with perhaps an upgrade in aesthetics.

Crested Butte planner Mel Yemma and community development director Troy Russ ran a Zoom discussion to gather input on future plans for the town’s main thoroughfare. With about 18 participants on the line, they presented options ranging from keeping the traditional two-way traffic with sidewalk seating, to the recent one-way set up, to a possible pedestrian mall or even a future complete redesign of the streetscape.

Yemma said last year’s adjustments put in place to address the coronavirus crisis that prohibited normal capacity inside restaurants and retail stores received generally favorable feedback from local business owners. She admitted it was quickly and cheaply put together under the circumstances. The decision now is whether to continue with some sort of different summer look with or without COVID-19 restrictions in place. Public feedback is being gathered and staff will craft a recommendation to council to hopefully vote on in March.

Five alternatives were presented by Yemma and participants were asked to weigh in with the pros and cons of each. Overall, it appeared participants liked the 2020 summer look. They described it as working well, contributing to business and providing a festive feel for visitors.
“We loved it and saw thousands of customers every week and they loved it,” said Kyleena Falzone of the Secret Stash and Bonez. “It worked super well. I’m all for it and can’t come up with many negatives. I’d really like to see it again. Customers loved the atmosphere.”

Mary Boddington of the Talk of the Town said last summer’s reconfiguration was “dummy-proof.” She said it was easy to understand and people loved it. “The one-way direction made it easy and my business survived because of it,” she said. “I would love to see it again.”

Citizen Kent Cowherd said if seating was going to be allowed once again on the street, then it would be best to not allow it on the sidewalk as that made it too congested.

Lawson Yow of Bonez said based on initial metrics set out by town planners, things like it being safe and good for businesses, then the one-way reconfiguration was a success and should be repeated.

Russ said the town had to take into consideration the cons as well as the pluses and that meant considering the loss of parking spaces and impacts to the nearby residential neighborhoods.

“Should this be for a long-term change and not just when COVID is here, then the congested sidewalk concern is not a big deal. People would not need to be socially distanced,” said Karen Hoskin of Montanya Distillers. “The reconfiguration was good for business and business here struggles with long off-seasons so this can help take advantage of the summer season which can be pretty short. If a decision is made to do it longer term, we need that assurance it will last so we can make the investment in infrastructure like tables.”

Cowherd said he agreed that sidewalk congestion would not be much of a problem if social distancing measures weren’t being required because of the coronavirus.

Russ said the town had to take into consideration ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) issues with sidewalk and street congestion.
Not everyone was 100-percent in love with the one-way set up. Eric Roemer of the Wooden Nickel had sent some concerns to Yemma. “I believe that our town should look like a living, breathing town and not a contrived mall,” he wrote.

He said that if the town was going to move ahead with the idea, then there should be a uniform design for fencing, suggesting attractive iron fencing surrounding the perimeter of each business’ allocated space. He raised the issue of some businesses being situated to do better than others in such an environment given how a business is located on Elk and raised the issue of the fairness of fees being paid by individual businesses.

Yemma said if the town makes the summer reconfiguration more permanent, the town would have to work out things like licensing fees. Russ said when he worked in Louisville, there was a $500 per season fee. “There are lots of options to look at,” he said.

Loss of some parking was brought up as a concern as was vehicle exhaust near outdoor diners, ease of deliveries, more traffic and parking on the nearby side streets and the fact that bikes could be a danger when they travelled the wrong way.

“Without COVID, why would the town block more parking,” asked Noel Adam of Zacchariah Zypp & Co.

Boddington said she lives near Elk and didn’t see any significant parking increase compared to previous summers. The town will be conducting a traffic study as part of the analysis process but Yemma estimated that between 400 and 600 additional vehicles per day were seen on Sopris and Maroon Avenues last summer.

The idea of a pedestrian mall on a portion of Elk received some positive feedback but raised more issues. Hoskin said she would need some time to access her front door since she was operating a distillery in the building. What to do with delivery vehicles would be an issue as would access to the Post Office and ease of business access for older visitors.

In the super long-term…which could come sometime in the next 20 years…Russ said sewer lines and other utilities underneath Elk Avenue would need to be replaced. It was at that time, when the road would have to be torn up and rebuilt, that a complete makeover could be considered for Elk Avenue. Initial ideas had trees lining the street, and a European feel to the core of town. “But that is not happening tomorrow,” promised Russ.

At the Tuesday meeting, business owners ranked increased business capacity, maintaining community character and the look of the street, and safety as the top three metrics for the town to consider when deciding how to proceed next summer.

“A lot of this takes time and businesses need time to prepare,” said Falzone. “If council goes with it, it takes six to eight weeks to get quality stuff for the outdoor seating so the more time you can provide us, the better.”

Yemma said feedback from citizens would be taken until the end of January. People can access a town webpage explaining options and taking comments on the Crested Butte town website. Town council is expected to consider and vote on summer alternatives for Elk Avenue before the end of the ski season.

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