Friday, June 23, 2006

Ketchum officials tweak downtown plan

Affordable housing, hotels and density among topics discussed

Express Staff Writer

The Ketchum City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission convene in City Hall Wednesday to discuss making improvements to downtown. Photo by David N. Seelig

The common refrain that Ketchum needs more hotels came to life again Wednesday as developers, city officials and the public debated how to bring about that end without disrupting the small-town feel that makes people want to visit.

Approximately 40 people attended a joint meeting between Ketchum's City Council and Planning & Zoning Commission Wednesday, June 21, to listen in on the discussion of how to revitalize the city's core, and to offer ideas of their own.

City staff and economic development consultant Tom Hudson have been working on a downtown master plan, the adoption of which could either entice or inhibit hotel developers to build here.

The first draft in its entirety will be unveiled to the public next month.

Components of the plan include increasing density in the commercial core, boosting affordable housing inventory through methods such as inclusionary zoning, and preserving heritage.

The city is contemplating changing its current zoning ordinance, which focuses on use, in favor of form-based codes, which consider instead buildings' designs and how they fit in with their surroundings.

"For some time, your code has focused on (floor-area ratios)," Hudson said. "The new focus would be on floors and heights, not FARs, so people can readily understand what they're getting into instead of trying to guess what they're getting into."

Building heights, floor-area ratios (how much space a building takes up relative to its lot) and setbacks would still be part of the equation.

"The primary reason we're moving to form-based codes is that FARs don't regulate the visual aspect of a building," said P&Z Commissioner Jack Rutherford. "But they're highly important to financing and value and what you can do."

The current height cap for community core structures is three stories, and 38.5 feet for flat roofs, including parapets, or 40 feet for sloped roof.

"We're only recommending to go to four floors," Hudson said of downtown buildings. "That's more consistent with the culture and economy here."

As a point of reference, the two-story Lane Mercantile building, now housing Starbuck's, is 42 feet high.

"Floors and building heights: Everybody knows what that means," Hudson said. "If I tell you a building has a 1.72 FAR, what are you going to do with that?"

Setback requirements are under review to make sure the city doesn't look like a bunch of boxes.

"The idea is to create some variety so as not to create a crew-cut across town," said Mayor Randy Hall.

Hudson's team is recommending a zero setback for the community core, with 25 percent open space that could go on the rooftop. Currently there's a 5-foot setback requirement. Neighborhood mixed use buildings could have a 5-foot setback; urban residential and multi-family up to 20 feet; and hotels up to 30 feet.

Among questions debated was whether hotels should be allowed to have additional height allowances for their first floor lobbies.

"You might want to have some flexibility," Hudson said. "That's just the nature of attractive design."

The city could lure hotels to the core if the right mix of incentives are offered.

Steve Burnstead, a principal of Bald Mountain LLC, and Brian Barsotti, the Ketchum developer from whom Burnstead bought the Bald Mountain property on Main Street, both said the trend in hotel development is to condominiumize units, not currently allowed in Ketchum. That means people could buy a room but only use it for a set amount of time each year. It would be rented out as a hotel room the rest of the year.

"It's a financing technique," Barsotti said. "I really think you're not going to see many fractionals. What you're seeing is condo/hotels. No one's going to build a straight hotel."

The city has set a goal of building 400 workforce housing units through inclusionary zoning. The system is used by hundreds of cities nationwide to increase the pool of affordable housing in expensive areas. Developers would have to include a percentage of their buildings as such units.

The average is 20 to 30 percent of residential units, Hudson said.

"Thirty percent is a huge net giving from developers and property owners," said Councilman Steven Shafran. "It's really important for all of us to understand both what the givings and the takings are to property owners and developers are."

Another option is resident-occupied units, in which a buyer must live and work in town, but gets a discount on market rates.

"I'm looking between the 20 and 30 percent range (for inclusionary zoning)," said Councilman Baird Gourlay. "We need to get the mix of fully deed-restricted and resident occupied. The expense of fully deed restricted is more for developers."

The trouble comes when, due to market forces, even a 50 percent discount puts a $1 million price tag on a home, which happened in Aspen, Colo., for example.

"Right now we need everything," Hall said. "And from what we're learning, we need it right away."

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