Council declares city emergency to brake construction
Commercial building boom spurs decision
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
Ketchum officials voted Monday night to declare a city emergency, posed by
booming construction of massive buildings in the citys downtown commercial area.
The councils 3-2 vote ushers in a 120-day period in which interim
regulations for building height and mass will be instituted. The vote was made at a
regular city council meeting.
Theres been too much building, too fast, to properly plan for the
citys growth, Ketchum Planning Administrator Lisa Horowitz said in an interview.
"Thats why there was an emergency."
Council members tied on the vote, allowing Mayor Guy Coles to break the
tie. He voted for the measure.
Though the council was unanimously in favor of the interim regulations,
the split vote was triggered by four commercial projects the city has already begun
Under the terms of the approved emergency measure, the four projects will
not be subject to the interim regulations.
Council members Maurice Charlat and Chris Potters wished to subject the
four projects that are already in the "pipeline" to the interim regulations.
Councilmen Randy Hall and David Hutchinson said it would not be fair to
subject buildings already under city review to regulations that were not in place before
the projects applications were submitted.
"Even if theyre in pre app (preapplication design review, the
process in which the citys planning and zoning commission offers feedback to a
developer before final plans are drawn up), they have the right to develop their property
as the rules were when they first applied to the city," Hall said.
In splitting the vote, Mayor Coles declared: "Im a firm
believer in property rights. If they have a plan, it may not be a plan we want right now,
but they have the right to develop under the regulations that were in place when they
The proposed Ketchum Hotel and new Christiania, which will be two of
Ketchums largest buildings if built, are among the four projects in the
The others, a new building proposed for the former Louies site and
the Cimarron, which will be adjacent to the Galena Engineering building on Seventh Street,
have not been before the planning and zoning commission but have received review by the
The interim regulations are designed to moderate city growth until a new
comprehensive plan is in place. Such a plan has been in the works for the past two years.
City officials are confident that the plan will be adopted by the city council early this
The 120-day maximum, however, will only give the city until mid-April,
several months before the plan is scheduled to be adopted.
Ketchum City Attorney Margaret Simms said in an interview that the city
could adopt an ordinance by the time the emergency regulations expire to regulate building
height and size in a similar way, until the comprehensive plan is adopted.
The proposed comprehensive plan calls simply for lower building size in
the downtown area and on the fringes of the downtown area, without citing specific size
It is clear that the recent spurt of large buildings spurred the emergency
"The reason we are doing this is because of the buildings in the
pipeline," Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commissioner Baird Gourlay told the council.
The interim regulations do away with the citys maximum allowed
building height and maximum allowed floor area ratios. Floor area ratios are a means by
which planners can calculate a buildings size. To calculate a buildings floor
area ratio, its gross square footage is divided by lot size.
In all cases, a larger floor area ratio means a larger building, Horowitz
The interim regulations will pose maximum floor area ratios of 1.2, with
increases to 1.4, 1.6 or 1.3 if certain planning requirements, like extra parking or
affordable housing, are met. The new Colonnade, as an example, has a floor area ratio of
1.26, and Gail Severns new gallery, next to Java tallies in at 1.75.
Previously, floor area ratios of 1.4, 2 or 1.85 were allowed with the same
The citys existing regulations also pose a 35 foot height
restriction with an exception for projects that include underground parking or affordable
housing units. Buildings incorporating either of those two may build to 40 feet under the
The interim regulations will pose a maximum height of 35 feet for all
buildings built in Ketchums downtown.
According to Idaho law, cities may institute interim regulations when a
comprehensive plan is nearing completion "if a governing board finds that an imminent
peril to the public health, safety or welfare" is evident. The maximum time allowed
under the law is 120 days.
In other city council news: