Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Ketchum eyes new controls for downtown

Express Staff Writer

The notion of a revitalized downtown Ketchum, with mixed-use buildings where people can live, work and shop on the same block, is coming into focus.

But if more mixed-use buildings come into being, there's no guarantee they would fulfill the vision of an attractive downtown. Put simply, some multi-use structures are downright ugly.

Although beauty is a subjective notion, diverse opinions can find some chords of harmony.

The city of Ketchum is contemplating an ordinance to approve the use of form-based codes, which is a way to regulate development and implement a specific vision for an area.

Members of the City Council and Planning & Zoning Commission Friday, March 3, heard a presentation on the topic from Al Zelinka and Jason Jones of California-based RBF Consulting's Urban Design Studio, and economic development consultant Tom Hudson of Moscow-based The Hudson Company.

"It's an area of focus change," Zelinka said. "Conventional zoning focuses on use, not what buildings will look like."

Form-based codes control the physical form primarily, and land uses secondly, and includes regulations in the private as well as public realm.

"Form-based code (zoning regulations) provides a higher level of certainty of what will get built, and it can speed up the permit processing time," Jones said. "It helps create a sense of place."

And that's just what's on the agenda for the city as it undertakes the formulation and implementation of a downtown master plan.

"Most zoning ordinances mandate city sprawl," Zelinka said. "The tools in place aren't achieving the aspects we desire ... they aren't effective. If we do what we've always done, we're going to get what we've always got."

Potential pitfalls of the system include a risk of monotony, rigidity, over-regulation and difficulty in applying it to all areas of the city, Jones said.

City officials expressed initial enthusiasm with the idea, but it would have to be approved by the City Council before it could be implemented.

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