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For the week of May 10 through May 16, 2000

Smaller scale in Ketchum’s crystal ball

Ketchum City Council members share planning ideas


"The rules are a pain in the butt. But this town is attractive because we take the time to write rules and implement them."

David Hutchinson, Ketchum city councilman


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

A vision is a mental image produced through imagination and foresight and, if you’re a city planner, careful planning.

Ketchum city leaders and planning staff are undertaking the monumental tasks of redrafting the city’s comprehensive plan and design review criteria. Through those redrafting processes, and with the help of citizen input, their visions are what Ketchum will become.

With a fast-paced construction boom underway and two of the most important city planning documents awaiting revisions—both expected to be finished this summer or fall—the city’s appearance and infrastructure, as they will be 10 or 20 years from now, can be tough to visualize.

In an effort to get a better handle on what Ketchum’s physical appearance is becoming, the council enacted emergency regulations in February and extended them for an additional six months last week. Those regulations reduce allowed building sizes downtown.

In the next six months, city planners are going to work with a Boulder, Colo.-based consultant to draft new design criteria they hope will preserve some of the small town feeling Ketchum residents embrace. Meanwhile, city planners and the city council will continue to finish the pending draft comprehensive plan.

The end results, they might hope, will be that their visions become visionary, that Ketchum becomes a paragon of what to do right in a world where things so easily go wrong.

Over the past three weeks, in separate interviews, this is what Ketchum’s elected officials had to say about their visions for Ketchum’s future:

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Ketchum Mayor Guy Coles said both the city and developers need to use "care and caution" in downtown building and planning, based on the city’s draft comprehensive plan, to achieve his visions.

The draft plan sets a good blueprint, he said.

"I would like to see the floor area ratios reduced a small bit, and I would like to see building setbacks increased a bit," he said. "Also, there’s no way in the world to make a square box attractive."

Other than architectural variety and smaller scale buildings, Ketchum’s existing feel and appearance are what Coles said he wants to see 10 years from now.

Beside building attractive structures, he said, preservation of the reasons people move to the Wood River Valley top his list

"We must preserve the mountains, air, quality of life and education," he said. "Whatever you want to call them, whether it’s small, Western or eclectic, those are things that will always be here.

"Overall, I think our vision is to make the community a better place in which to live, make it accessible to the tourists for whom our town is partially maintained for, and for the people who live here permanently."

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The newest member of the city council, Councilman Maurice Charlat, zeroed in on something every council member pointed out regarding Ketchum’s downtown buildings.

"Scale is the single, most important thing for me," he said. "The starting point for the scale we want is in the buildings we’ve got. I, for one, like what we’ve got."

Charlat said he’s not impressed with arguments based on arithmetic, meaning floor area ratios—a building’s square footage divided by its lot size—and height. He knows by standing back and looking, he said, when something fits and when it doesn’t.

A proposed building’s surroundings tell what the scale of that building should be, he said.

As for a concrete, physical description of what he wants the city to become, Charlat said: "Being the newest member of the council, I don’t think I have the kind of vision you’re asking for."

That’s not to say that Charlat was at a loss for ideas.

"The city has to continue to maintain its [services and facilities] and, indeed, improve those qualities," he said.

Roadways, surfaces, sidewalks, lighting systems, the fire department, emergency medical services and police are among the infrastructures Charlat wants to see maintained and improved.

"Infrastructure is what people see," he said.

Finally, Charlat said that in the face of growth, the city "absolutely" needs to take a look at its hillside regulations.

"I don’t think we want a group of private hotels ringing the town," he said.

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Councilman Randy Hall said he envisions Ketchum’s future to be "something that’s not too radically different from what we have now."

Buildings’ permitted scale should come down a bit, but not too significantly, he said.

Ketchum buildings he doesn’t like are large scale, "three stories right in your face."

"The visual impact is too great," he said.

Hall praised Ketchum’s sense of community, but appeared concerned about what will happen to it.

"The most valuable asset we have is people. I don’t see that changing in the near future, but there is a danger. If we continue to lose our workforce down valley—that’s a threat to our sense of community."

Therefore, Hall’s 10- to 20- year outlook for Ketchum includes construction or purchase of more affordable housing units.

"If Ketchum somehow reaches 250 affordable units, that would be something constructive," he said. "Keeping the community vital is keeping the work force in the community."

One of Hall’s notable and inevitable concerns, he said, is that Ketchum and the valley are going to continue to grow.

The town has "friendly people, fresh air, recreation—you name it, we’ve got it," he said. "It’s just a matter of time. They will come.

"There’s no way you control growth. I really don’t like that term. What we need to do is manage growth."

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"The plan in the downtown is to have continuity in the streetscapes, parking and sidewalks and to allow the architecture to have a diverse quality," Councilman David Hutchinson said.

Like Charlat, Hutchinson expects to see the city’s visible infrastructures improved and made more attractive.

It’s a vision the city is already on its way to achieving, he added.

The city is working on its streetscape project in front of the chamber of commerce this spring, and a Warm Springs bike path is not far behind. Also, negotiations are ongoing with Idaho Power to bury the city’s power lines.

When asked about elements of the city he would like to do away with, one of the things Hutchinson pointed to is the scale of some of the buildings.

"There’s no question that some of them have gotten out of scale," he said. "I’m not going to say what the solution is. We’re looking at all the solutions that we can."

Among tools he said could be used are variations of setbacks, height, design review and reduction in the perception of bulk.

He also said Ketchum’s future will have new park and recreational amenities.

"We’re aggressive when it comes to parks and recreation," he said. "I think the Janss Center will be built. I think there will be a pool. I think we’re going to see some nice recreational benefits in the next 10 years."

Beyond specifics, Hutchinson said, all the hoopla of late surrounding the comprehensive plan and design review regulations will pay off.

"The rules are a pain in the butt. But this town is attractive because we take the time to write rules and implement them," he said.

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Councilwoman Chris Potters made clear that she has lots of vision.

She envisions no generic (chain store) development, no hillside development, protection of environmentally sensitive areas including rivers, a public swimming pool, reduced congestion, facilities for valley children, smaller buildings, more downtown pitched roofs and a strong sense of community, to name a few.

"You want everything to turn out so everyone enjoys living [here]," she said of her visions, which she said she hopes are shared by most of her constituents.

In the city’s downtown, the most contentious area of current planning, Potters said she wants to see a lot of vegetation and open space.

"You have to have green all over. Some people can’t get north," she said.

Small city parks and buildings that don’t maximize lot coverage will contribute to the city’s greenery, she said.

If she could go back and rework Ketchum’s ordinances 10 years ago, Potters said, she would enact regulations that set a maximum building size at half of what the city allowed before declaring the city emergency in February.

She said she realizes that’s not possible now, but she still wants to see substantially smaller buildings.

However, it’s not just about lot coverage, she said.

"Tall buildings are not part of a small intimate community," she said. "I think the views are appreciated and something we don’t want to take away."

Beyond building height and bulk, she said, better building design can be achieved through architectural details. Differences in color, window design, gables, cornices and benches can all contribute to Ketchum’s architectural interest without overbuilding, she contended.

But most importantly, she said, Ketchum’s future will be its people.

"The willing generosity to help people in need—you don’t have to beg for it," she said. "It just flows."

 

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Copyright 2000 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.