Cracking down harder on plastic, more food trucks, retail support?
By Mark Reaman
The town council on Monday, July 17 instructed the Crested Butte town staff to begin investigating a variety of future moves as part of its general code overhauls or community values. Future changes touched upon included consideration of banning all single use plastic in town (not just plastic bags), finding ways to help Elk Avenue retailers boost business, assisting Clark’s Market to get the word out that it will be closing August 18 for a major renovation, getting ahead of the state in dealing with so-called “forever chemicals” (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, or PFAs) in the water supply, incentivizing more food trucks in town and eliminating the need for residents to license dogs in Crested Butte.
After almost a month without a council meeting given the timing with the Fourth of July holiday, council members, particularly councilmember Anna Fenerty, brought up several issues the town staff could dig into.
Total plastic ban possible?
During a work session on July 17 regarding the revisions of Chapter 7 of the town Municipal Code, it was noted in a staff memo that the 2018 plastic bag ban in town was working and should be retained. The local bag ban has broader application than the state’s ban.
Fenerty said that while the plastic bag ban in town was a beneficial action, she relayed that she recently saw a cartoon where a person was touting the banning of plastic grocery bags but almost every item in the grocery store was wrapped in plastic. She asked if there was anything more the town could do regarding single use plastic in town.
Town manager Dara MacDonald said a new state law known as the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act or House Bill 21-1162 would allow municipalities to enact more stringent laws to manage or restrict plastics in towns starting July 1, 2024. MacDonald said the staff could investigate that option further and gather information for the council to consider.
Dog licensing going away
Also, as part of that Chapter 7 work session, council agreed that licensing dogs in town was not necessary anymore. Chief marshal Mike Reily said of the approximately 244 dogs living in town, 43 were licensed. An annual license costs $10. He explained that when a marshal picks up a dog now the process is normally to take them to PAWS (Paradise Animal Welfare Society) and they scan a chip that most dogs have inserted into their skin. That chip relays information on the owner.
Town clerk Lynelle Stanford said the primary benefit of licensing local canines was for checking vaccination records. It was noted that the Mountain Express policy is that dogs that ride the bus must be registered and licensed, but drivers don’t normally check that requirement.
“With such a low rate of licensing I don’t see a benefit in continuing the licenses,” said councilmember Jason MacMillan. “Dogs living in town can be registered in the county and that could address the Mountain Express concern.”
The rest of the council agreed that there was no reason to continue requiring Crested Butte pooches to obtain a town license.
Clark’s Market closing will freak people out
Fenerty asked town staff if the town was doing anything to lessen the impact of the upcoming closing of the town’s primary grocery store, Clark’s Market. Clark’s is closing August 18 for a major renovation that is expected to be completed sometime in December.
“People will freak out when it actually closes,” she said. “This will be a big one.”
In her reports to the council, MacDonald has continually reminded the council of the upcoming closure and, in the July 17 packet, she again noted that “while this will modestly impact town’s projected sales tax revenues, it will have more of an impact on convenience for residents and visitors during the closure.”
“Does the town have a plan for when it closes?” asked Fenerty.
MacDonald said there isn’t a lot the town can do since it is a private business, but she noted town was “lucky” to have a free transit system that could assist people getting to Gunnison for major grocery shopping and an in-town health food store that provides groceries.
Town community development director Troy Russ said he has worked with Clark’s to allow them to erect a banner that normally would not be allowed. The banner would make people aware of the closure. “We found a way to allow it given the public need for information,” he said.
Fenerty suggested somehow making the information more prominent before people arrived in town.
Forever chemicals issue
Fenerty queried public works director Shea Earley about what the town does with “forever chemicals” that might be found in the town water supply.
Earley said the town is aware of the PFA concern but is not actively addressing the situation. “We are waiting on the state,” he said. “We have collected bio solid samples for the state but have not seen any decision from them in terms of limits with PFAs. It is hard to do a treatment process without parameters from the state so honestly it is not yet a priority.”
In an April report to the council, Earley noted that “the fact that the Town’s raw water system is located within the headwater of the Slate River, coupled with a general lack of development upstream of our intakes, suggests that we may not encounter as much of an issue as other drinking water and wastewater facilities,” he wrote. “At this time, there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered. Town staff will continue to monitor the conversation and react to additional regulatory requirements as they are developed. Regardless, with regulatory agencies still drafting guidance, the Town’s water and wastewater systems await their direction.”
In that regard it was noted that the marshal’s office takes medicine for disposal that might be poured into the toilet and enter the wastewater system. Reily said the marshals take such medicine all year round and they will properly and safely dispose of it.
“It is a lot cheaper to address the situation that way than spending the money to pull the chemicals out of the wastewater,” noted mayor Ian Billick.
Assisting retailers beyond a “soft touch”
Council generally was open to tweaking town rules to help local retailers. Town had received a letter from Jen Greene of Paradox Footwear stating that town seemed to prioritize helping restaurants over retailers located along Elk Avenue. After receiving a reprimand from town for placing a “sale flag” in a planter box outside her store, she wondered if retailers could utilize some town right-of-way space like the restaurants are doing with the outdoor seating.
Fenerty said she noticed recently that sales tax revenues seemed to be declining in the town’s retail sector. Through May of this year, retail sales tax revenue is down about 6% compared to 2022. Overall sales tax collection for that time is off 2%. “Can we do things that help local retailers and not just restaurants?” asked Fenerty.
MacDonald said that discussion was slated for when Chapter 16 of the Municipal Code was addressed in the future. She said there was a plan this winter to talk about how the town’s rights-of-way were being utilized and whether to allow retail opportunity to use space on the street in the summer similar to restaurants.
“I would like to look at more ways to support retailers sooner,” said councilmember Mallika Magner. “It’s a tough market out there so I think we should do whatever we can to support them. Why can’t Paradox put their shoes out there for example?”
“I too would like to have that discussion,” said councilmember Gabi Prochaska. “We shouldn’t be picking one over the other, restaurants over retailers. A discussion to help retailers not feel picked on is good. To me it goes hand in hand with our transportation and mobility study since we have our bike racks out there.”
“I’d be in favor of that conversation. Early this winter is fine since summer is already set,” added MacMillan. “I understand why we have the rules. We don’t want Elk Avenue to feel like Gene Taylor’s in Gunnison. What is the right balance?”
Billick said it was an important conversation but “I want to have it at the right time. It should be part of a bigger picture. We shouldn’t just be reactive. For me it is not an us versus them. It is important to plan for an Elk Avenue that we love. Let’s focus on making Elk Avenue a place we all love. I like Paradox but people come here in part for the restaurants and not necessarily to buy shoes. I think the lack of restaurants will have a lasting two- or three-year impact on the town.”
“People like to shop and not just eat,” said Magner.
Billick indicated that while that was true, restaurants were considered a driver for the economy.
“While we already are dealing with retailers with a soft touch, can we have a softer touch until we have the deeper discussion,” asked Prochaska.
“The problem with that is that retailers then can’t count on making longer term investments if something is ignored but not legal,” said Magner.
“A soft touch is pretty subjective, so we need to be very careful with such an approach,” added Billick.
Billick summarized that the council wanted to engage in the retail support conversation but wanted staff to provide a sense of when it would fit into the overall master planning discussions taking place.
Helping more food and
A public hearing will be held on August 8 to consider changes to Chapter 6 of the Municipal Code. Among the changes is an effort to enhance the mobile vending (food trucks) environment in town and, according to town clerk Lynelle Stanford, it would work “by helping mobile vending to be more viable for vendors.”
Significant changes would allow for two trucks to be allowed within the Big Mine parking lot in addition to the two trucks currently allowed at the Four-Way parking lot. Trucks would be allowed to vend on private property between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. along the Sixth Street corridor. Eight truck vending licenses would be available each year and during summer trucks would be allowed to park overnight in the Four-Way and Big Mine parking lots. Town will consider supplying electricity starting next season for trucks located in the Four-Way parking lot.