Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Design review discussion turns to talk of historic preservation

Express Staff Writer

A proposed mixed-use building planned for Ketchum's core could displace or destroy two historic properties—or it could be the first project to invoke a section of city code that allows for transfer of development rights and offers incentives for preserving old buildings.

The Ketchum Planning & Zoning Commission on Monday held a preliminary design review for Redhawk Landing, a 38,515-square-foot, mixed-use project. Located at 111 East Ave. N., it is designed to accommodate 20 residential units, including four community housing units, and an underground parking garage. The ground floor would be all commercial space.

On the four-lot parcel of land sit two historic properties: The James McCoy/Fran Gooding House, which was built in 1884; and the James Shaw and Obenchain House, built in 1910.

"I have no problem with the building," Commissioner Jack Rutherford said of the proposal.

But, he said, "there are two historic structures on the property ... if we continue to see (old buildings replaced by new), it is going to ruin the character of downtown. I have to request, before dismissing historic buildings, that you look at that as an alternative or option."

Rutherford, who also serves on the Ketchum Historic Preservation Commission, acknowledged that the city doesn't have the authority to prohibit owners from moving or demolishing old buildings.

But by using the TDR option, which allows the transfer of development rights on any piece of property in the commercial core, developers can gain additional developable space.

TDRs apply if there is a community benefit to the transfer. If the city determines that historic preservation is a community benefit, the TDR option would apply.

"If the city says they're historic and are a community benefit, we can use TDR to increase developable floor ratio from 1.4 to 1.75 square feet," Rutherford said after the meeting.

Currently, developers are gaining some developable floor space by adding community housing. If they used the TDR option instead, transferring development rights from the historic homes to the other lots, that ratio could be increased more.

"I'm in favor of community housing," Rutherford said, "but you've got to flip a coin sometimes."

The city is considering expanding the TDR section to make it easier to apply it to historic properties and to allow for greater incentives, but that is still in the works.

"When you come at something from a new direction there are a lot of unknowns," Rutherford said. "(TDRs) haven't been used before so we need to figure out how to use it."

Andy Sabel, Ketchum Historic Preservation commissioner, and owner of a historic home adjacent to the proposed project, spoke in favor of preserving the structures.

"We are extremely concerned that there are two historic properties on this site," he said of Redhawk Landing.

He added that the scale of the project could detract from the historical feel of the area.

"We fear the character of Ketchum is being nibbled away by piranhas in little tiny bites," he said. "We're going to come across a tipping point where it won't be in the interest of property owners to keep smaller structures because the (neighborhood) character has changed so much."

Materials proposed for the project are stone, stucco, wood siding and wood trusses. Separate street entries would provide access to retail stores on the ground floor. City staff has suggested incorporating artwork or sculptures into the project.

Project representative Richard Schaeffer said the project is set back from the street with wide sidewalks and streetscape enhancements. The design would encourage pedestrians to walk closer to the windows, inviting them to enter the stores, and would offer public places to sit.

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