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For the week of Apr. 19 through Apr. 25, 2000

Ketchum house generates controversy


The house "is a lot more noticeable than we imagined. We didn’t think it would skyline like it does."

Peter Ripsom, Ketchum Planning and Zoning chairman


By GREG MOORE
Express Staff Writer

The Drexler house under constructionA uniquely designed Knob Hill house—which in its early phase of construction looks more like a tram terminal than a home—has provoked numerous complaints by citizens to the Ketchum planning department.

Located at 760 Walnut Ave. North, the house has a 59-foot-high facade and will measure 5,261-square feet over four floors. Its skeleton is formed of poured concrete and steel beams.

The property is owned by Mickey and Peggy Drexler, residents of San Francisco. Mickey Drexler is president and CEO of GAP, Inc.

In an interview, Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Peter Ripsom called the house a "quality building," but acknowledged that "it’s very offensive to a lot of people. We’ve had several suggestions by neighbors that it be looked into."

The Drexler house under constructionIn fact, the house’s design has already been looked into. As is required of all proposed construction in Ketchum’s Mountain Overlay Zoning District, the building went before the city’s planning and zoning commission for design review. The proposed design was approved unanimously in January 1999.

The building’s most prominent feature when viewed from the front is its height. At 59 feet, the house would appear to violate the 35-foot-high limit set by the Ketchum ordinance. However, that limit is measured from "original grade."

In an interview, Ketchum planning administrator Lisa Horowitz pointed out that the top of the Drexler house is 35 feet above the original grade—the remaining height, she said, was obtained by excavating.

Horowitz said that’s legal, but questioned whether that was the drafters’ intent.

"It’s something in the ordinance that we need to look at," she said.

According to plans, the sides of the building will be filled in, reducing its apparent height.

Though the house meets the legal height limit, it may have some difficulty meeting another restriction.

One criterion for design review in the Mountain Overlay zone is that "building on hillsides which would have a material visual impact visible from a public vantage point entering the city or within the city shall be minimized."

The deeply overhanging roof of the Drexler house creates a prominent profile on the side of Knob Hill when viewed from state Highway 75 at the northern entrance to Ketchum. Ripsom admitted that the house "is a lot more noticeable than we imagined. We didn’t think it would skyline like it does."

A third visual impact are the building’s massive concrete walls. However, according to plans, the concrete will not be visible once the house is done.

"I would ask anyone who has reservations to please reserve judgment," said the building’s designer, New York architect Thierry Despont, in a telephone interview.

Despont said the exterior walls will be covered by "truly magnificent stonework" of Montana moss rock, a dark, gray-brown stone highlighted by lichens. He contended that with the addition of stone covering, wood timbers and boulders placed around its base, the house will appear to have "grown with the land."

Despont said the building’s roof will be of "lead-colored copper," which will reflect the sky on bright days and be gray on cloudy days.

The Idaho Mountain Express contacted several people living near the construction site. Most declined to be interviewed. However, two who offered opinions, Paula Caputo and Lara Babelis, shared Despont’s optimism for the completed product.

"I don’t understand why there’s so much attention about this when there are so many more ugly things going in," Babelis said. "Look at certain art galleries."

Caputo said she appreciated the fact that the home’s builders had taken care to save trees surrounding the construction site and that the Drexlers had bought three adjacent lots to maintain as open space.

Ripsom said that as an architect, he believes the Drexler house design "works."

"It’s a clean, honest style of a house," he said. "Not French country, not Swiss, not New Mexico. It trades on the vernacular of the basic architecture of Idaho."

 

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