Council commits to two-way Elk Avenue with outdoor seating for next summer

One-way created a “lifestyle tax” on nearby residents….

[  By Mark Reaman  ]

The Crested Butte town council made a U-turn Tuesday and agreed to commit to a summer Elk Avenue configuration that will allow two-way traffic while also permitting some outdoor seating for dining. In a 6-1 vote, the council agreed that the proposal was a good compromise that would benefit the restaurants, the nearby neighborhoods and the town in general. Councilmember Anna Fenerty voted against the measure stating a return to two-way traffic with no street seating would be more appropriate while a more permanent Elk Avenue design was considered.

The newly approved concept plan that calls for restaurants to have fenced in eight-foot-wide dining areas adjacent to Elk Avenue traffic lanes will be implemented this coming summer and is expected to be in place for two or possibly three summers. More details will be discussed and nailed down before the winter is over.

Two weeks prior, the council had essentially taken that option off the table given concerns over ADA issues, worry over the area available for seating given delineation of space using flower barrels, and the potential costs to the town if patios were required. But further investigation determined it could be a feasible option if instead of using flower boxes and rope to delineate the parklets, fencing paid for by the town would be utilized with flower boxes to mark the parameter of the dining space. Businesses would provide the tables, chairs and umbrellas and could also choose to pay for and place a formal patio in the space that met minimum standards set by the town.

The other two alternatives being considered by council were to continue with the one-way Elk Avenue configuration with 12-foot wide parklets for dining seen the last two summers or eliminate all seating on public rights-of-way and return to two-way traffic.

Community development director Troy Russ suggested increasing the permit fee to at least $3/foot so while the use of a single parking space for dining purposes in 2021 was about $140 it would go up to about $900 next summer. He said as part of the permit, the space would have to be used for dining otherwise the parklet would have to be removed. There will be no corn hole in the street next summer! If a participating business did not have ADA accessibility inside the existing business, it would have to provide it as part of the parklet. The thought is to allow the outside seating from June 15 into September.

“No matter what we decide, two-thirds of the people won’t like it so let’s have empathy and understanding as we discuss this,” said mayor Ian Billick before Tuesday’s public hearing. “Everyone is trying to make the best decisions for the town.”

“I appreciate the two-way option with outdoor seating,” said councilmember Beth Goldstone. “It seems a good compromise. But I’m wondering why the town would pay for the fencing.”

Russ said that while larger restaurants could probably easily pay for that, it helped smaller restaurants on tighter budgets. The fencing could also be used for other town purposes. Total fencing costs is expected to run between $20,000 and $60,000 depending on the type of fence selected.

“I’m a fan of outdoor seating and this current Omicron spike makes me nervous to predict what could happen in the upcoming summer,” said councilperson Jason MacMillan. “I too think two-way Elk with outdoor seating is a nice compromise. We need to consider both the historic culture and character of Crested Butte. I like the feeling of riding my bike both east and west on Elk Avenue. We have to live with cars for a while and while we do, I think keeping Elk as a main artery is important.”

“I like the compromise but would like to continue to see traffic calming efforts on Whiterock, Maroon and Sopris Avenues,” said councilperson Mallika Magner. “I don’t think two-way traffic will be particularly pleasant for outdoor dining but I’m fine to go with that.”

Councilmember Mona Merrill agreed. “It’s a good compromise but I would like to keep open the option to revisit it and make sure it really does work.”

Billick recited a brief summary of written comments received by the council on the issue. They ran the gamut of support for all the various options with most lining up behind the two-way traffic with outdoor seating option.

Kent Cowherd advocated for that alternative saying it was the most balanced alternative and fair for the town. “The town can experiment and gather data with this option since its had the one-way configuration for two summers. If this is good, it will grow legs.” He pointed out that the fee increase funds could go toward the fencing costs that could be used for other town purposes as well. He suggested the primary parking management should be to enforce two-hour parking limits on Elk Avenue.

Eric Davis who lives just off the west end of Elk said the one-way was like a fire hose without a drain. “It didn’t contribute to the flow of traffic. The two-way alternative is better,” he said.

David Rothman said he realized there were a lot of challenges in front of the council, but the compromise option was the best alternative. “Displacing traffic from Elk with the one-way presents challenges to the residential neighborhoods,” he said. “It creates a lifestyle tax on people who live on those streets.”

Local restaurant owner Kyleena Falzone pushed for keeping the one-way configuration with 12-foot seating parklets instead of the eight footers. “I represent 22 restaurants on Elk Avenue and I think with the Compass planning effort it will take a while to figure out a long-term plan. We have the infrastructure from the last two summers. I would like to see the one-way continue,” she said. “Town is cutting the number of tables by about 50 percent and the result in the summer will be a substantial strain to feed people. Customer service will be negatively impacted. Plus COVID is not over. I think this takes away from the experience and it will hurt us more. I’d go one more year with the one-way.”

“I think the two-way will energize Elk in a good way,” countered Paul Mack. “The two-way allows for a better traffic flow and is better for the nearby neighborhoods.”

Shaun Horne agreed that the two-way helped with traffic circulation in town. “This still allows the restaurants to have outdoor dining and will help if COVID continues.”

With the exception of Fenerty, the majority of council generally came down on the side of proceeding with the two-way compromise that allowed outdoor seating. Fenerty again argued for returning to two-way with no outdoor seating which she said made Elk feel too congested. “Prior to COVID it was nearly impossible to put anything on Elk and now we are stepping pretty far away from that,” she noted.

Council didn’t want to dive into deeper details of the plan until giving the public time to mull over the option they chose. They all appeared to favor having a 10 mile per hour speed limit on Elk in the summer. 

MacMillan asked if the two-way configuration would be too crowded or even dangerous. Russ said when he worked in Louisville the same configuration was implemented in the same street spacing but there were no incidents of anything getting sideswiped by a vehicle and that was with a 25 mph speed limit.

Staff and council will continue to discuss the type of fencing that would be most appropriate, specific fees and parklet sizes along with standards for patios.

“When we went into this thing two years ago the town did everything it could to help business because of COVID,” said councilmember Chris Haver. “The feeling I have now is that the money we get from fees can go into things like Elk Avenue beautification. I’m fine with the higher fees.”

“With COVID, the restaurants had limited seating but this is now additional seating so they should bear more of the costs,” added Magner. 

“There is a role for the town to play with things like obtaining grants, but I too am good with the higher fee structure,” said MacMillan. 

Billick liked the idea of committing to the new direction for at least two years to give businesses a sense of comfort and “let them hone things in. It also encourages them to be creative and cost effective without looking too junky.”

Fenerty brought up the idea of using the side streets off of Elk to the alleys as either pedestrian parks or even art markets. The council agreed that discussion was better held for a long-term discussion of redesigning Elk as was an in-depth discussion on how to draw down the number of vehicles in town and on Elk. Council will also take time in February to officially discuss parking management enforcement. 

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