Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Ketchum enacts building moratorium

182-day hold placed on residential projects in commercial core


By GREGORY FOLEY
Express Staff Writer

The city of Ketchum has approved and enacted an emergency 182-day moratorium on accepting and processing two types of applications for residential projects in the commercial core.

The City Council approved the moratorium by a 4-0 vote during a special meeting Tuesday afternoon. Mayor Ed Simon said after the meeting that the emergency ordinance enacting the moratorium would likely go into effect by the end of the day Tuesday, after signed versions of the ordinance were posted in the city.

The moratorium—which Simon said he wholeheartedly supports—specifically pertains to applications to build single-family dwellings or projects that include first-floor residential units in all areas of the city's Community Core zoning district. The CC zone essentially comprises the city's commercial center, including Main Street and outlying streets to the east and west.

New applications for those types of projects will not be processed, city officials said, but projects already under review by the city will be allowed to proceed.

"It has a really minimal effect," Simon said.

Simon said the main intent of the moratorium is to give city officials time to write new ordinances designed to ensure retail space is preserved in the city center.

"We want to maintain the viability of retail in the downtown," Simon said. "There's a concern that all of the retail will go away."

The city in recent years has experienced a clear trend of developers building residential and non-retail office projects in the CC zone, often on parcels where commercial buildings once existed. In fact, the ordinance approved Tuesday states that "over the past five years, 75 percent of the applications for building permits in the CC district were for residential projects."

Simon said a trend of declining retail space on Main Street was one of the driving forces behind the decision to enact the moratorium.

"We felt we had to do something to avoid losing more (retail) property, especially on Main Street," he said. "I think the banks on Main Street and the closing of Williams Market caused the biggest concern."

Indeed, two new bank buildings are under construction on Main Street, in addition to two that already exist. Some city officials—as well as citizens—have suggested that having too many bank buildings on Main Street will take away from the downtown's vibrancy.

Williams Market, one of only two supermarkets in Ketchum in recent years, closed its doors at the end of September. Simon said a representative of the property about one year ago approached City Hall about redeveloping the site.

Councilmen Ron Parsons and Baird Gourlay after the meeting both said they believed a moratorium was the best tool for enhancing commerce in Ketchum.

"A moratorium forces the issue," Gourlay said. "It forces us to deal with the problem."

The council waived three public readings of the ordinance under a provision that allows the city to take immediate action on issues deemed an "emergency." The ordinance states that an emergency exists because the economic vitality of the city is threatened, in part because a decline in retail activity means a decline in local option tax revenue, which is used to fund essential police, emergency and fire services.

Simon said the City Council will hold a special meeting Tuesday, Oct. 18, to set its goals for establishing new ordinances governing the CC zone. Options open to the city include imposing a requirement that that the first floor of projects in the CC include at least some retail space and no residential, Simon said. A requirement for affordable housing might also be discussed.

Simon said he expects the city's work to be done within the 182-day time frame.

"We do not want to extend this moratorium."




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