Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Ketchumites address downtown's future

First in series of town halls draws large audience

Express Staff Writer

Consultant Tom Hudson, of Moscow-based The Hudson Company, leads a community meeting in Ketchum Thursday. The city of Ketchum contracted with Hudson to help it create the framework for a downtown master plan. The city is hoping to create the master plan while under a 182-day moratorium approved Oct. 11 by the City Council. Hudson will lead a series of community workshops to gather input on what citizens want their downtown to be. He will return to Ketchum in November to present findings from last week's meeting. Photo by David N. Seelig

What Ketchum residents fear most is an intangible: losing their sense of community.

What consultant Tom Hudson is tasked with is a challenge: finding specific solutions to intangible problems.

More than 100 people attended a town hall meeting Thursday, Oct. 27, to discuss the future of Ketchum's downtown. Hudson, a community-based economic development specialist from Moscow, facilitated the event.

"This is your evening," he said. "We want to hear from you, (and) we will be very interested in your continued participation as we continue to build a downtown master plan."

Expanding affordable housing, encouraging diversity of demographics and creating a pedestrian-friendly environment are on the minds of Ketchum residents. But how to achieve those ends?

Part of the interactive evening was spent trying to discern, and eventually to graphically portray, what people mean by a pedestrian-friendly environment.

The audience was asked to view more than 100 photos and renderings of buildings and streetscape scenes, and to rank their preferences. Participants also responded to the questions, What do you value most about Ketchum? What is missing? How can downtown reinforce your values or address what is missing?

Concerns expressed by audience members included absentee homeownership, parking ordinances, large residential projects in the city's core and construction impacts.

"One of the challenges we have in turning (the plan) into reality is to get more and more clarity about the comprehensive plan, and to build a framework for what that means," Hudson said.

Hudson said people have told him that as visitors, they feel the downtown is too spread out and disorienting—a feeling he himself has experienced.

"Looking around, I don't have an orientation on where I'm supposed to go," he said. "There's not a clustering of activities. We don't know where to find your retail. There're pockets of it. But will I ever find the gallery district? Where's City Hall? Where's the library? Will I ever find it?"

Carol Waller, executive director of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau, noted that the goals of some people for downtown will conflict with those of others.

"I think people tend to think small town character means cuter, smaller buildings," she said. "Yet, one of the challenges is to have more affordable housing in the core. There's got to be some kind of trade-off."

"What it comes down to is the intangible community spirit," Hudson said. "(We need) a willingness to agree to disagree. You can't have everything, but there are solid things we can do to sustain a sense of balance."

After the meeting, attendees milled around, looking at a wall of sticky notes with audience members' comments posted from top to bottom.

Bonnie Wetmore, of Ketchum, was happy that the meeting's format allowed direct audience participation.

"The process was good," she said. "(People) probably weren't aware how they can affect things. This shows you can."

Fellow Ketchum resident Jane Nicoll was pleased with the turnout.

"I thought it was really informative and helpful to hear a lot of different voices," she said. "It's good to know so many people are concerned. It makes me feel hopeful."

Hudson and Al Zelinka, of Irvine, Calif.-based RBF Consulting's Urban Design Studio, will come back to Ketchum next month to present the results of last week's meeting. They are also scheduled to return in December and January.

Noting that most of those attending the town hall Thursday were over Ketchum's average age of 38, they encouraged the evening's participants to bring other people to future workshops so a better cross-section of the community is represented.

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