Truckee isn’t the only town trying to strike the right balance between offices and retail in downtown areas.
More than a dozen communities in the mountain West are dealing with the issue.
Chris Hawkins, the planning and building director for Telluride, Colo. said his town is in a similar position to Truckee, considering options and holding work sessions with concerned stakeholders.
“It’s amazing the number of communities either thinking about this issue or implementing policy,” Hawkins said.
The Truckee Town Council is studying options regarding some sort of restrictions on ground-floor office space along Commercial Row.
The council Oct. 26 adopted a 45-day ordinance prohibiting non-retail, non-restaurant, and non-bar uses on Commercial Row’s street level. Town staff is using that time to research how other communities have addressed the issue and to talk with people who would be affected by a more permanent ordinance.
Looking across the country at similar mountain communities, town staff has so far found three viable courses of action for council to consider when it revisits the matter Dec. 7. Towns elsewhere have created outright bans on office use in their downtown cores, regulated new businesses on a case-by-case basis, or decided not to implement any ordinances.
Jenna Andres, town associate planner, said she had surveyed 18 mountain communities similar to Truckee, and found that within downtown areas, 33 percent prohibit office use, 22 percent require conditional use permits for non-retail uses, and about 44 percent have no restrictions.
“There are a lot of other areas going through this process as well,” Andres said at a Nov. 14 meeting. “We aren’t the only ones.”
Telluride considered a similar ordinance in the past and chose not to adopt it, Andres said, but the issue is scheduled to be discussed again.
Telluride’s Hawkins said the town is considering five options: completely banning office uses downtown; regulating through conditional use permits; applying a combination of those two; setting a percentage of the total downtown area to be used as office space, or by not applying any regulations whatsoever.
Aspen, Colo., is one town with a total prohibition on office uses in its downtown area, Andres said.
“Some towns may have a commercial core surrounded by other commercial areas, so they prohibit office use in the core outright, and allow it on a conditional basis in the outlying areas,” she said. “That seems to be very effective.”
Other towns, including Boulder, Colo.; Ketchum, Idaho; and Steamboat Springs, Colo.; allow some office use on a case-by-case basis, where non-retail uses must apply for a special use permit, she said.
Jonathan Spence, a planner for Steamboat Springs, said the conditional use restriction applies to the main strip of their downtown, and only applies to the ground floor. It was put in place in 2001.
“We had some Realtors screaming but it’s been fine,” Spence said. “It has maintained our town’s vibrancy.”
Steamboat Springs started by following the examples of other resort areas in Colorado, Spence said.
In a previous interview with the Sun, Nevada City Manager Mark Miller said their council recently enacted a similar ordinance for Nevada City’s historic downtown.
“It was felt that we needed to retain a critical mass of retail to keep business up,” Miller said.
At Tuesday’s stake-holder workshop, about 15 store owners, real estate professionals, property owners, and interested community members discussed Truckee’s downtown ordinance.
While general feedback was supportive and represented a broad spectrum of ideas, some concerns were raised over how and where the ordinance would be implemented, Andres said.
Mike Monroe, a member of the Tahoe Sierra Board of Realtors, asked why such a small area was being considered for the ordinance instead of the whole downtown area.
“Looking at long term prosperity, we have to look beyond just a block,” Monroe said. “There may be unintended consequences if you take just one block ” it could affect other blocks.”
Robert Cassidy, a Truckee resident, said that by preserving Commercial Row, the town would be preserving the whole downtown area.
“If we lose the core of that one block, there won’t be anything left to revitalize,” Cassidy said.