For the week of May 25, 1999  thru June 1, 1999  

Quit ignoring McHanville problems

While fundraisers raised money for the new St. Luke’s Hospital, while highway planners planned and skiers skied, Ketchum, Sun Valley and Blaine County snoozed.

So relieved were local officials that the tough stuff—including where to locate a new hospital and who would own and run it—was solved, that they snored right up until the time the hospital’s foundation was poured this week.

They were shaken from their slumber by the Sun Valley Water and Sewer District.

The hospital needs water and a place for sewage, so it asked for annexation into the water and sewer district.

Being inclined to engineering details and looking toward the future, the district wanted to know if the county had plans for future development in the area around the hospital. The answer was, "We don’t know."

It was a poor answer.

The area around the hospital site has been in limbo for years. During the debate over the new hospital, when concerns were raised about effects on the surrounding area, county officials promised to devise a good plan to resolve inevitable impacts.

To date, they haven’t kept their promise.

The area around the hospital, known as McHanville, contains both commercial and mixed uses. Years ago, the county—fearful of commercial sprawl along State Highway 75—froze the commercial uses in time by prohibiting expansion.

The area has been a wart on the face of the county’s plan for years, not too pretty but not painful unless scratched. The county went to great lengths not to scratch it.

Ketchum long tried to pretend the wart wasn’t there and was happy in the knowledge that it wouldn’t spread.

For Sun Valley, the area was out of sight and out of mind.

Until the hospital came along, everyone but the property owners lived happily by ignoring the problems in the area.

With the hospital going up, McHanville has suddenly become everybody’s problem. The new stoplight on State Highway 75 and the traffic congestion have given everyone reason to wonder what’s going to happen there.

Some have suggested the county create a special zone just for the hospital and the area around it. What that means or what it might allow, no one knows.

Some are resigned to mini-mall-style expansion of businesses along the highway and eradication of the residential areas—mostly mobile home parks.

We think the best minds in local government can do better.

The county and the cities should not set aside their dedication to limiting commercial development on the highway. No one wants the area to become an ugly commercial strip, no matter how small.

Ketchum should be interested in protecting the integrity of its downtown and should not be content to allow the area to become a competing commercial satellite.

Commuters should be interested in limiting new highway traffic and getting rid of the dangerous highway section now used by several businesses as their primary entranceway.

Businesses should be interested in improving the appearance of the area, which is rundown. After all, the valley’s face is its fortune.

Given local struggles with the availability of affordable housing, the cities and the county should be interested in preserving existing affordable housing and any new units allowed under present zoning.

McHanville should be a candidate for development of high-density affordable housing.

The bike path is next door. It would be easy for Ketchum and Sun Valley to extend the KART bus system a mile or so south from the State Highway 75 intersection with Elkhorn Road, where the southernmost bus route now ends.

Decisions made about what happens in McHanville are critical, yet the county has done more about berms bordering the highway.

The county declared a 30-day moratorium on berm development this week, to give itself time to enact some design limitations. Limiting berms is a good idea because of their effect on the scenic corridor along the highway.

If limiting berms is a good idea, cleaning up the McHanville mess must rank as genius.

What happens at McHanville will affect everyone in the valley—commuters, visitors, residents and businesses. Letting McHanville develop by default or turning it into a suburban-style commercial satellite is in no one’s interest.

The alarm clock has been buzzing for a long time. Blaine County, Ketchum and Sun Valley should shake off the Sandman, smell the coffee and take care of the problem.


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