Friday, February 24, 2006

P&Z endorses increased building heights

Hailey City Council has final decision

Express Staff Writer

Before a limited crowd of observers, the Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission voted 3-1 Tuesday to endorse a plan to increase the maximum building height in the city's business district.

The proposed zoning ordinance text amendment would increase the maximum allowable building height in the business district from 35 feet to 40 feet. The maximum 40-foot height would only apply in the portion of Hailey's business district that lies in the Townsite Overlay District.

The final decision on the matter rests with the City Council, which will first consider the proposed amendment at its March 27 meeting.

In voting to send the proposed amendment to the council, P&Z commissioners added several new conditions. These included a limitation to only three stories, as measured from the primary street frontage, and a requirement that buildings employing the maximum height must have at least one residential unit.

Tuesday was the third time commissioners have discussed the proposed text amendment. Commissioners first considered the proposal by Andy Erstad, of Erstad Architects, at a meeting Nov. 7.

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 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 primary street level. Erstad said the requirements can create undesirable situations where the bottom floor is located below the sidewalk level.

Wood River Valley developer Ken Ward was the only person to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. Saying he supports the amendment, Ward suggested that many of the city's policies limit developers who may have innovative ideas for creating mixed-use residential and commercial developments.

"You limit what you can do," he said. "You tie your hands."

The only dissenting vote came from Commissioner Trent Jones.

Jones seemed primarily concerned that the height increase is being driven by a desire to help certain property owners out of a bind when a lot's sloping nature creates design limitations.

"It doesn't sit well with me that we are looking for ways to circumvent that," he said.

Jones also expressed concerns related to how the height increase would hamper the Hailey Fire Department's ability to fight fires and with how the increase might negatively impact the atmosphere of the city's downtown core.

"I'm not supportive of this. I wasn't from the beginning."

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