Smaller scale in Ketchums 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 youre a city planner, careful planning.
Ketchum city leaders and planning staff are undertaking the monumental
tasks of redrafting the citys 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 revisionsboth expected to be finished this summer
or fallthe citys 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 Ketchums 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
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
Ketchums elected officials had to say about their visions for Ketchums future:
Ketchum Mayor Guy Coles said both the city and developers need to use
"care and caution" in downtown building and planning, based on the citys
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,
theres no way in the world to make a square box attractive."
Other than architectural variety and smaller scale buildings,
Ketchums existing feel and appearance are what Coles said he wants to see 10 years
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 its 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."
The newest member of the city council, Councilman Maurice Charlat, zeroed
in on something every council member pointed out regarding Ketchums downtown
"Scale is the single, most important thing for me," he said.
"The starting point for the scale we want is in the buildings weve got. I, for
one, like what weve got."
Charlat said hes not impressed with arguments based on arithmetic,
meaning floor area ratiosa buildings square footage divided by its lot
sizeand height. He knows by standing back and looking, he said, when something fits
and when it doesnt.
A proposed buildings 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 dont think I
have the kind of vision youre asking for."
Thats 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 dont think we want a group of private hotels ringing the
town," he said.
Councilman Randy Hall said he envisions Ketchums future to be
"something thats 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 doesnt like are large scale, "three
stories right in your face."
"The visual impact is too great," he said.
Hall praised Ketchums sense of community, but appeared concerned
about what will happen to it.
"The most valuable asset we have is people. I dont see that
changing in the near future, but there is a danger. If we continue to lose our workforce
down valleythats a threat to our sense of community."
Therefore, Halls 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 Halls 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, recreationyou name
it, weve got it," he said. "Its just a matter of time. They will
"Theres no way you control growth. I really dont like
that term. What we need to do is manage growth."
"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 citys visible
infrastructures improved and made more attractive.
Its 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 citys 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.
"Theres no question that some of them have gotten out of
scale," he said. "Im not going to say what the solution is. Were
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 Ketchums future will have new park and recreational
"Were 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 were 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.
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
In the citys 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 cant get
north," she said.
Small city parks and buildings that dont maximize lot coverage will
contribute to the citys greenery, she said.
If she could go back and rework Ketchums 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 thats not possible now, but she still wants to
see substantially smaller buildings.
However, its 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 dont want to take
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 Ketchums architectural interest without
overbuilding, she contended.
But most importantly, she said, Ketchums future will be its people.
"The willing generosity to help people in needyou dont
have to beg for it," she said. "It just flows."