Friday, January 20, 2006

Hailey P&Z expresses cautious support for building height increase

Express Staff Writer

Members of the Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission voiced cautious support Tuesday for a proposed zoning ordinance text amendment submitted by Boise-based Erstad Architects to increase the maximum height for buildings in the downtown business district from 35 feet to 40 feet.

This is the second time commissioners have discussed the proposed text amendment. At a meeting on Nov. 7, commissioners first considered the proposal by Andy Erstad of Erstad Architects.

Erstad has described the increase as a way to equalize the developmental opportunities for all lots in the business district. He said the sloping nature of certain lots in the business district makes it difficult for developers to build three-story buildings that take full advantage of the maximum 35-foot height limit.

Hailey city code requires a building's maximum height to be calculated from the lowest measurable grade anywhere within a building's footprint. This creates a problem, some architects and developers say, when a lot slopes away from the main street level. Erstad said the requirements can create undesirable situations where the bottom floor is located below the sidewalk level.

Much like during the November meeting, the primary concern of commissioners on Tuesday was related to how the increased building heights might hamper the fire department's ability to fight structure fires. Invited to the meeting to speak on the matter was Hailey Fire Chief Mike Chapman.

Chapman said fire code requires a variety of additional safety measures to be put in place on buildings over 30 feet in height. "We've already broken the ceiling," he said.

Chapman said another issue is the city's current lack of an aerial ladder truck, which is needed for accessing buildings over 30 feet in height. Right now the city has an agreement with Wood River Fire and Rescue, which does have an aerial ladder truck, he said.

At issue is the possibility the agreement with Wood River Fire and Rescue could end at any time, he said. At some point Hailey will have to purchase an aerial ladder truck, Chapman said. Purchasing an aerial ladder truck and hiring properly trained fire fighters could cost the city as much as $1 million, he said.

Another concern voiced by some of those who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting was with how increasing building heights might create a "canyonizing effect" on city streets. The speakers said Ketchum is an example of a city where buildings have been built too high on streets that are too narrow.

"What we're talking about here is an issue of scale," said Rob Lonning, of Hailey. "I guess that's my concern."

In general, however, commissioners seemed less fearful of the canyonizing effect in Hailey. They pointed out that because Hailey has wider streets than Ketchum the canyonizing effect is less likely to be seen.

"I don't feel like were in danger of canyonizing," commissioner Nancy Linscott said.

In the end, the P&Z commissioners voted to continue discussing the proposal at their meeting on Feb. 21.

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