Town looking at ways to make Elk Avenue streetscape better
Written by Mark Reaman   
Wednesday, 03 October 2012

Elk Avenue just a step or two away from Vegas?

While generally agreeing that downtown Crested Butte is a busy and thus successful place in the summer, members of the Town Council and Board of Zoning and Architectural Review (BOZAR) discussed some possible adjustments to the summer streetscape at a work session on Monday, October 1.


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Suggestions ranged from minor changes like moving around bike rack locations and limiting some lighting in the main business corridor, to more major adjustments such as making Elk Avenue one-way for three months or putting bike racks in a street parking space.
“The goal is to find a balance between a vital streetscape and one that isn’t functioning,” town building director Bob Gillie told the gathered officials.
Summer sales tax set new records in town last summer but it wasn’t without incidents of congestion. BOZAR chairperson Liz Sawyer relayed her experience of finding it hard to navigate certain sections of Elk Avenue with a baby stroller or with a scooter used by an elderly relative when it was busy.
“The section in front of the Brick Oven was particularly difficult several times last summer,” she said.
“It seems like the display of outdoor merchandise has become too much and is adding to congestion,” said councilperson Glenn Michel. “A former councilperson said it was like a flea market, in a positive way. I don’t think I agree with that. Prohibiting the display of merchandise could help de-clutter the streetscape.”
“It seems to be mainly clothing,” said Sawyer. “But that’s how you get women in the store. People are impulse buyers. If they see something they like, they’ll continue inside. It doesn’t bother me. My main issue is the crowdedness that prohibits things like strollers or handicap access.”
“I think the clothing racks should be prohibited,” said BOZAR member Carolina Alling. “It’s not appealing overall and I’m a shopper.”
“I didn’t hear many complaints about the congestion but I guess clogging the pathways is the real issue,” said councilperson Jim Schmidt. “I’ve seen it in front of the Brick and Maxwell’s.”
“As long as people can move freely down the sidewalk, I’m okay with people displaying their merchandise,” said BOZAR member Pete Carey. “But it was definitely crowded in front of the Brick at times.”
“When the Brick got sidewalk seating, it definitely made that area more crowded,” confirmed councilperson Roland Mason.
“When people parked their bikes there it just became too much,” said Sawyer.
Gillie said BOZAR member Andris Zobs had suggested putting a bike rack in one of the parallel parking spots in the street to get the bikes off the sidewalk.
“That could work. It would be a reflection of our town philosophy and be a great amenity,” said Michel.
“What about going even further and making traffic on Elk Avenue one-way to the west?” suggested Mason. “The cars could go down Whiterock like the buses. Then there could still be parking on both sides of the street and bike lanes on Elk. It’s just something to think about.”
“I like that idea,” said councilperson David Owen.
“People on the side streets would hate it,” said Schmidt. “If the Brick is the main place for the congestion, then maybe we do use one street parking space for a bike rack. It would be a worthwhile experiment.”
“We’ve seen that happen already,” observed Parks and Rec director Jake Jones. “There is a bike rack where cars usually would be parked in front of Mountain Earth and Sherpa’s Café.”
“Maybe we can try Roland’s idea for the summer,” suggested Carey. “One-way on Elk might work for June, July and August.”
“That would cause many more issues that need to be discussed thoroughly,” said Gillie.
“I just want people to think about the idea. We need to look at some things differently,” said Mason. “Maybe we need to look at really getting delivery trucks into the alleys.”
While no final decisions were made, look for a few bike racks to be located in the parking lanes of Elk Avenue next summer.
“Sales tax was up this summer. What’s the problem?” asked citizen David Leinsdorf.
“There are some areas that were overly crowded and we’re just trying to make it better,” responded Sawyer, “especially for people with kids in strollers or elderly people in scooters.”
“The discussion is certainly not over,” said Mayor Aaron Huckstep.

Light it up
The group also held a thorough chat about the lighting on Elk Avenue. The lights have expanded over the last several years, with a recent boom from all the outdoor seating venues at various restaurants approved the last two summers.
Gillie said the three main rules in place to regulate lighting on Elk Avenue are all lighting must be approved; all lighting must be night-sky oriented; and holiday lighting is limited to ski season. None of those rules are being enforced, he admitted.
Gillie said several years ago the chamber of commerce promoted lighting buildings during the holidays and owners found the task of putting up and taking down those lights difficult. So they’ve just left them there all year long. Then, when the council encouraged outdoor seating at restaurants, owners began lighting up the new spaces, primarily with strings of lights.
“People just push it a little more and more,” said Schmidt. “They see what their neighbor is doing and take it a bit further. That’s what happened in Las Vegas.”
“I see icicle lights and even blinking lights. I don’t like that all the time,” said Sawyer.
“The lights around the buildings don’t bother me. They make the town look bigger,” commented Mason.
“Ultimately, every building could be outlined in white lights,” said Sawyer.
“Each building should be approved,” suggested Carey. “It might be a load of work up front but it would address the situation.”
“And the holiday lighting should be different from the parapet lighting on the buildings,” said Alling. “The holiday lighting should be special. For example, the window lighting should only be okayed for the holiday period.”
The group agreed that parapet lighting would be appropriate year-round but the town should start enforcing the time restrictions for holiday lighting.
The group was split on how much to regulate lights for outdoor seating areas. Calling it “bistro” lighting, the consensus was to upgrade the lighting to make it conform to town code. That could result in more expensive lighting fixtures and the group wanted to get some business feedback.
“The spaces aren’t huge so I’m not that worried about it,” said Sawyer.
“Historically, the town has been very sensitive to the night sky,” said Michel. “It sounds like we are becoming more comfortable whittling away at that, at least on Elk Avenue. We’ve always tried to keep the stars visible so this would be a change in philosophy. I’m not saying that’s good or bad but it is a change.”
“The string lighting brings to mind used car lots,” opined Schmidt.
“Elk Avenue would look cleaner if we required downward lights,” said Mason.
“Cost is a factor,” said Huckstep.
“We are talking about the ambiance of town. A couple of hundred bucks shouldn’t drive that,” said Gillie.
“A couple of hundred dollars maybe,” responded Huckstep. “You’re right. But maybe a few thousand has an impact. I’m just saying we need to get real dollar figures and ask businesses what they think.”
Concerning “holiday lighting,” the council will see where it goes this winter.
“Just let us know if Clark Griswold moves in,” Huckstep told Gillie.