2 Aurora businesses chided for skirting stay-home pandemic rules

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A group of three plays basketball, March 24, 2020, at Utah Park. Group play in city parks is now prohibited, as well as going to work at non-essential businesses.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | A pair of Aurora businesses were reprimanded for failing to comply with a statewide stay-at-home order the same day it was put in place, city officials confirmed.

On Thursday, the city received two complaints about businesses skirting stipulations set in Gov. Jared Polis’ mandate, which formally went into effect at 6 a.m. March 26.

The first business, a bar in the the city’s Ward V, was admonished for allowing patrons to drink beer inside the premises while waiting for takeout food. The same bar also faced a code enforcement issue, according to city spokesman Michael Bryant.

The second business, a dog grooming operation in the city’s Ward III, was continuing to provide dog grooming services even though that was not deemed a “critical business” in Polis’ order.

City officials continue to speak with both businesses to educate the proprietors on the specifics of the order, according to Trevor Vaughn, manager of the city’s tax and licensing division. Neither business has received a formal citation or summons for their actions.

Vaughn said both entities were operating in relative gray areas that have slowly been shored up in recent weeks.

“Hanging out and drinking as you wait maybe was OK a week or two ago, but it’s not OK now,” he said. “These are kind of educational issues.”

Vaughn added that the grooming operation was technically allowed to stay open under the statewide order because it sells dog food – a critical business – though the preening side of operation should have been shuttered for the time being.

Vaughn declined to identify either business by name.

“Right now, we’re making sure people are aware of the order and making sure they’re educated on how it applies to them,” he said.

Repeat or flagrant offenders could face fines or business license penalties, according to Vaughn.

But in a call with city leaders Thursday, Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said Aurora cops are actively trying not to summons people found in violation of the order.

“The last thing we what to do is have to arrest any or our citizens or to summons any of our citizens to give an additional financial impact during this pandemic,” she said.

That’s why the city is relying on the tax and licensing division and code enforcement officers to handle the bulk of complaints surrounding the order, which is slated to remain in effect until April 11.

“We don’t want our first contact to be with law enforcement,” Deputy City Manager Jason Batchelor said. “Again, we are trying to make voluntary compliance, and again that’s the purpose behind allowing code and licensing having some ability to enforce this.”

In a statement issued Wednesday, Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said local law enforcement agencies don’t intend to throw the book at people found in possible violation of the order.

“These rules and laws need to be complied with, but the fear should not be that you will be (dragged) into court to face criminal charges,” Brauchler wrote. “That is a matter of last, last, last resort.”

Aurora police have yet to issue a summons or citation to a resident found blatantly violating the stay-at-home order, Bryant said. The department is not tracking warnings.

Around the city’s largest bodies of water, Aurora and Quincy Reservoirs, rangers say the public is largely respecting social distancing protocols.

“We’ve seen a lot of compliance as far as people respecting each other’s areas and distancing,” Erin O’Neill, spokeswoman for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space Department said.

O’Neill said rangers have yet to issue any warnings or citations at either reservoir.

Though the areas around the reservoirs remain open to the public, many public spaces around their banks, including fishing piers and picnic areas, have been cordoned off.

Aurora businesses with compliance questions are encouraged to call 303-739-7057 or email [email protected] Residents who encounter businesses possibly violating the order are instructed to use the same contacts.

People who have general complaints or questions about the greater stay-home order can call Tri-County Health at 303-220-9200 or email [email protected]

The county health department rescinded its original stay-home order yesterday to replace it with the broader statewide order.