Friday, April 15, 2005

Hemingway tours would violate Ketchum tradition

Guest opinion by Joan Anderson and Jack Bunce

Ketchum residents Joan Anderson and Jack Bunce live near the Hemingway House. Anderson and her husband, Don, were frequent companions of Mary Hemingway.

The Ketchum City Council next week will discuss changing a cherished community tradition: Allowing celebrities to be "ordinary" residents, undisturbed by caravans of tourists gawking at their homes.

The council will have a special meeting Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. to discuss opening the Hemingway House to activities that could draw more than 14,000 visitors a year. The site now is closed to the public, as Ernest Hemingway's wife, Mary, expected when she left the property to The Nature Conservancy upon her death in 1986.

The Nature Conservancy now supports tours—contrary to its many previous statements—and plans to donate the house to the Idaho Hemingway House Foundation for this purpose.

In addition to two public tours a day, the proposal calls for an unlimited number of literary workshops, meetings and fundraising events. The plan is silent on how to discourage "unofficial" visitors who would certainly seek out the house if it were open for public events.

Although we are not famous residents like the Hemingways, we cherish our privacy. Our neighborhood has long been zoned as "limited residential," meaning that even schools, churches and libraries are prohibited.

In the spirit of compromise, we have offered to purchase the property at a price set by an independent appraiser, impose a conservation easement to protect the adjacent wildlife habitat along the river, and give the house to The Nature Conservancy. We only ask that the house be moved to a public location. One organization has offered to donate land for this purpose. There are likely additional locations where the house would benefit Ketchum's economic interests and Hemingway lovers alike. The Nature Conservancy has rejected this offer.

So why are the city and The Nature Conservancy contemplating proposals that change their traditions and the law?

Several questions need to be answered:

First, if allowing visitors at the Hemingway House is in the public interest, why not move it to a location with adequate public access?

Second, why does The Nature Conservancy want to give the property away, rejecting our offer that will be in the millions? This seems at odds with its financial responsibilities. Why, too, would it violate the wishes of a major donor, Mary Hemingway, who often said that she did not want her home to become a tourist attraction? Other Hemingway relatives agree with her sentiments.

Third, why does The Nature Conservancy favor thousands of visitors in the surrounding 16-acre wildlife sanctuary, disturbing deer and elk and ducks?

Fourth, why should the city consider changing our property rights? When many of us purchased our homes, we relied on city zoning protections. Also, the Hemingway House can be reached only by a dirt road constructed on an easement through the yards of three private residents. The road is too narrow for fire trucks, according to city standards. Does The Nature Conservancy want the city to change the terms of the easement—or condemn the property?

Finally, should the city really consider "spot" zoning, which is prohibited by Idaho law? While the city states any new regulations would apply to all historical sites in residential districts, no one has identified any other such sites. This is certainly the moral equivalent of spot zoning.

We are seeking a compromise that will avoid the expense and polarized feelings a lawsuit would bring to the city The Nature Conservancy and us. A good offer for the house is on the table. We also are willing to consider alternatives.

We believe a solution can be found to honor Hemingway's literary heritage, while protecting the individual rights and the natural environment that he cherished. We hope the others involved will work with us towards that goal.

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