Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Ketchum lays foundation for downtown plans

Sun Valley again offers help

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum city leaders are stepping up their efforts to tackle what they see as problems with residential development in the downtown core, but critics say their actions are misguided and politically driven.

During a special meeting Tuesday, Oct. 18, the mayor and City Council discussed parameters of a moratorium approved last week, and they offered ideas on who should be included in an umbrella discussion on downtown vitality.

The six-month moratorium approved Oct. 11 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.

City Attorney Ben Worst outlined the city's options: do nothing, pass an interim moratorium or approve an interim ordinance.

Mayor Ed Simon and Planning Director Harold Moniz voiced support for an interim ordinance.

"My preference is to get this done within the 182 days, or at least get it done with the downtown master plan," Simon said. "My scope looks at the CC zone and having a discussion on changing that zone to CC and CC-1.

"We have to look at densities. We have to discuss linkage in this process. I see that in three zones, CC, Tourist and (General Residential-High Density). When we get to implementation we may have to phase some of the decision-making process."

But Moniz said that if the city hopes to have a concomitant discussion about the implementation of a downtown master plan, the six-month time limit would likely be insufficient.

A hotel overlay zone and a rezone of or moratorium for Warm Springs Village could also be part of the overall discussion.

Ketchum resident Chip Fisher suggested the Warm Springs Village issue be treated separately from the downtown one.

"The Warm Springs initiative may get hung out to dry while the downtown wades through its significant issues," he said.

Maurice Charlat, a mayoral candidate in next month's city election, said the city should bring together a variety of people, including a real estate agent, a developer, a restaurateur and retailer.

"Look for their advice and guidance," Charlat said. "Those kinds of people are very, very business oriented and have specific objectives. They're going to want to see specific milestones, not just a lot of conversation going on. And obviously, planning and zoning is at the heart of this."

Simon said divergent voices are necessary.

"I'd like those people who may disagree with everything the downtown task force wants to implement," Simon said.

Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson attended Tuesday's meeting, promising administrative and financial aid.

"The city of Sun Valley would be more than pleased to offer our resources to the downtown master plan in terms of personnel and in terms of assisting in financing the study group," he said. He added that workforce housing, not just for city employees, should be part of the discussion.

A few members of the public said a moratorium was a tardy reaction to the problem of declining vitality in central Ketchum.

"We've seen this thing coming for quite some time," said Ketchum resident Derek Ryan. "All of a sudden we throw up our hands and say we have an emergency."

Mayoral candidate Mickey Garcia said the city's action is a sign of dysfunction.

"I think it's crisis management for the sake of politics," he said. "You should have waited until after the election if you are really sincere."

Councilman Baird Gourlay defended the city's actions.

"This is not a panic situation," he said. "It just puts it to the forefront, then (city) staff has the ability to work on these things instead of doing housekeeping things."

Dick Fenton, partner in Ketchum-based McCann-Daech-Fenton Realtors, told the council that legislating retail space is a misguided attempt to revive downtown. The focus instead, he said, should be on making existing retail more attractive.

"The market isn't controllable," he said. "The market is going to tell us what works. If we put in retail and there's no demand for retail, development stops. We have to be prepared to plan as we go."

Workforce housing, parking, pedestrian-friendly areas, landscaping and transportation are aspects to a successful downtown, he said.

Debbie "Burnsie" Burns, a downtown merchant and Planning and Zoning Commission member, said even if retail space is provided, merchants may not be able to afford the space.

Fisher agreed with the holistic approach.

"Once you get (the town) all dressed up and ready for the dance, things are going to start to happen," he said.

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