Friday, October 22, 2004

No rush on Simplot tract plan

The Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission?s go-slow approach to the massive development proposal for the downtown?s largest remaining vacant land is absolutely proper.

A real estate undertaking of this magnitude on a critical piece of downtown property will go a long way toward changing the character of the core of the city, not to mention disposing of a huge parcel of land in a single plan.

Only three blocks away, Wells Fargo Bank will be constructing a new facility on the old Town Center site at the corner of Fourth and Main streets that for years was home of the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber and Visitors Bureau. So, each change in downtown property use and construction must be evaluated for its long-range influence on the city?s dynamics--its architecture, increased vehicular traffic flow, demands on emergency services and utilities.

As someone wisely observed, once you do something it?s impossible to undo it, which is especially true with so much brick and mortar involved.

The 3.3-acre parcel that would be developed is the entire plot immediately west of the downtown U.S. Post Office, bordered by Fourth and Sixth streets and by Second and Third avenues.

As an architectural concept on paper, the plan advanced by the owners, Gay and Scott Simplot, would be an attractive use of land, including such features as a winding bike path throughout, residential and commercial structures, an arts center and garden of sculptures, underground parking and affordable housing.

As P&Z Commission chairman Greg Strong commented, ?I think what they?re submitting is pretty reasonable.?

However, major questions remain for the P&Z (and for the community). Presumably they?ll be taken up when the development plan is front and center at the P&Z commission?s Nov. 8 meeting, when Dick Fenton, the real estate broker for the land, will return to discuss several concerns of commissioners.

Vital to the decision is a firm understanding of when and where a total of 10,000 square feet of community (affordable) housing would be constructed and whether the city should vacate rights to parts of Third Avenue and the portion of Fifth Street that?s platted but undeveloped on the property.

Street closings are especially sensitive, as Commissioner Anne Corrock suggested, wondering if vacating streets shouldn?t be the Ketchum City Council?s decision, since it ultimately must give final okay to the development.

Ultimately, however, the test of what development to allow and to what extent should be what?s good for the developer and just as good for the community.

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