The city of Ketchum is now on track for taking top honors in the
Department of Hypocrisy this year. Even with eight months to go and with local
governmental lunacy at an unprecedented pitch, the city is going to be hard to beat.
Elected and appointed city officials cried crocodile tears this winter
about downtown buildings becoming "too big." The council passed an ordinance
targeted at stopping "big" buildings. Officials gave gratuitous speeches about
preserving the towns "character."
Yet, even as they spoke, they knew the city had given the green light to a
private home on Knob Hill that is emerging as the embodiment of everything officials said
For starters, the bunker-like house exceeds the citys height limits.
It is 59 feet tall. Thats 24 feet taller than the 35-foot limit. Thats almost
20 feet taller than the 40-foot limit for buildings with underground parking.
The homes four stories, including a garage at street level, are dug
into a hillside. Most of its height is visible from the street.
"A loophole," say city planners.
Building height is measured from the existing grade of the lot, they say.
However, if someone digs down below grade there is no limit.
Hello, China. Here comes Ketchum.
Incredibly, the P&Z unanimously approved the home in January 1999. It
did so despite the fact that the home obviously violates a review standard that calls for
homes in hillside areas to minimize "material visual impact visible from a public
vantage point entering the city or within the city."
The P&Z members clearly failed to consult their seeing-eye dogs before
Viewed from the north, the homes enormous wing-like roof line looms
over Ketchum like a bird of prey. The wing replaces what used to be a rocky hillside. It
dominates even the tallest buildings in the downtown below.
The same year the P&Z approved the house, it also began hearings on a
proposed downtown plan that called for reducing the size of some buildings by half, while
others could have risen to a height of 50 feet.
Community outcry quickly shelved the 50-foot idea, but the Ketchum council
warmed to cutting down the size of downtown buildings. The council recently passed an
emergency moratorium that reduced size until the city puts new laws into place.
Hypocrisy? Yes, in capital letters.
The city council should dig into its bag of tricks and apply a similar
moratorium on new residences before the downtown is dwarfed by any more alpine Taj Mahals.
After all, fair is fair.