Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Can density and heritage live in harmony?

Ketchum ponders TDRs for heritage preservation

Express Staff Writer

Diners enjoy an evening meal at the Ketchum Grill, a restaurant housed in one of Ketchum's oldest structures, the Ed Williams Home, built in 1885. Photo by Willy Cook

A sense of place, not just great tastes, is cause for the well-worn path leading to the Ketchum Grill.

Ketchum's sense of place can be attributed, in part, to well-established businesses and an environment that fosters community interaction.

It can also be tied to historic structures—such as the 1885 building housing the Ketchum Grill—that are quickly being torn down and replaced with more lucrative prospects, particularly condominiums.

The city of Ketchum is revisiting its seldom-used transfer of development rights ordinance, a system that allows owners of smaller, historic buildings in a designated "sending" area to sell their rights to build up to the city's three-story maximum.

Development rights are the difference between the existing use of a piece of land and its future building potential.

Property owners in "receiving" areas could buy those rights, thereby creating more density in other parts of town.

The system, which is voluntary, seeks to preserve not just historic structures, but ones that represent a distinctive style of architecture, a particular era in Ketchum's history or that had a notable figure who lived there.

"It's trading density in some areas for heritage preservation in others," said economic development consultant Tom Hudson. "That's the essence of TDRs: understanding it's a trade."

Larry Stone, who has owned the Ketchum Grill building for approximately 15 years, said he wants to see the ordinance in final form before deciding whether he would apply it to preserving the cottage on East Avenue.

"I'm not sure how much I'm going to support high buildings just to support other things," he said. "I would assess it from every angle before deciding whether to support it."

Getting buy-in both from developers who want to create additional density by purchasing TDRs and heritage building owners is essential.

If people like Stone agree that TDRs are a workable compromise, two elements pertaining to Ketchum's sense of community may be bolstered.

"With affordable housing and heritage as the two top priorities for the master plan, we're looking for tools to do both, though not necessarily at the same time," Hudson said. "This is what the community, in their feedback to us, has said is important."

The TDR ordinance is being reviewed by Ketchum city staff, the Ketchum Historic Preservation Commission and Hudson, who is helping the city craft a downtown master plan.

"We've gone block by block looking at the downtown with several key goals in mind," Hudson said. "One, we've identified areas in their current form that capture the essential character of traditional Ketchum. To a great degree, that has to do with building height and mass. The second criterion in our downtown review ... is historic fabric. By that we mean buildings that possess some facet of historic character."

Heritage landmarks were identified by walking the city, studying maps and consulting the Ketchum Inventory of Heritage Landmark Sites and Structures.

"We said, 'There's a cluster of historic buildings here; there's a character here we want to preserve. So, we're going to extend the sending areas to here,'" said City Planner Stefanie Webster. "Along Main Street, do we want to keep smaller scale, like the Pioneer and Lane Mercantile buildings? Do we want those to be dwarfed by higher buildings? These are the bigger planning questions we grappled with, and this is what we came up with."

TDRs enable market forces, and the demand for residential space, to accomplish the community goal of preserving Ketchum's heritage as reflected in its built environment, states the draft of the amended ordinance.

The idea is to create incentives for property owners to keep structures the way they are, Hudson said.

"If there is an area identified as having heritage in a sending area, that property owner could sell undeveloped space on top of the building to someone in the receiving area, then people in the receiving area could get more density on their site. We believe it's essential for Ketchum to have some degree of additional density allowed, especially in order to accommodate construction of additional affordable housing."

Properties in the receiving area that build a fourth floor from a TDR should not mix with other incentives for affordable housing, Hudson cautioned.

"We don't want to compound the complexity of the exchange with affordable housing," he said. "Keep the economics of the first through third floors and the fourth floor separate."

Rules and incentives governing affordable housing relate to the first through third floors.

Once a TDR is executed, the deed is recorded by the county assessor's office.

"In the future, whatever they sold would always be a reduction in development rights," Hudson said. "Whatever the zoning is ... you have one floor less than the law allows."

That property may have less economic value if it goes up for sale, since the deed permanently reflects the TDR.

"Many people buy on speculation of what economic value a property can return to them," Hudson said. "There's economic value in development rights. But historic rights, there's not as substantial value to it. They're mainly buying it for aesthetics. Clearly, there's some economic value in that."

The community, in accepting the amended TDR ordinance, gets "a higher level of assurance that (building) scale and heritage may be preserved," Hudson said.

The key to making a successful TDR program, he added, is to keep it simple and rational.

"The market can very easily establish what is the value of that floor," he said. "(Ketchum) is a coherent, consistent market. If we see the market doing any buying and selling, it will be a success."

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