Friday, July 21, 2006

Nice package, empty box?


How disappointing it would be to receive a beautifully gift-wrapped package and open it to find nothing inside.

Ketchum could become that package unless the City Council gathers courage and proceeds with vigor and determination to enact building and zoning ordinances to ensure that downtown remains a lively and interesting place.

The city has spent $275,000 to date on a new downtown plan. It's been money well-spent. The city now has a blueprint of what needs to be done.

The City Council's actions have kept pace with the recommendations of its consultant. It has formed an Urban Renewal Agency and is discussing formation of a nonprofit City Development Corporation to develop parking and housing.

So far, so good.

But this week the City Council balked and decided to embrace the gift-wrap—without the gift.

Council members talked happily about their vision of downtown—pretty benches, trees, art, nice places to walk or sit. But they dropped from the downtown plan the zoning codes that will keep Ketchum alive.

In the past, such actions have turned perfectly good plans into decaying piles of paper useful only as monuments to do-nothing politics.

Consider this ugly picture.

Without enactment of ordinances to increase densities with well-designed buildings, Ketchum will continue to suffer severe worker shortages, business shrinkage and closures.

It will continue to fail to attract young people and young businesses to renew it.

It will see destruction of quaint buildings. Without a density-transfer program, owners eventually will be forced to demolish small buildings and replace them with bigger ones to realize a return on their investment. Over time, the city stands to lose buildings like the Ketchum Grill, the Elephant's Perch, Starbucks, Iconoclast Books—even the Wagon Museum—buildings people like because of their unique character.

Ketchum will see retailers unable to organize themselves into concentrated shopping areas attractive to customers. It will not see new and interesting small shops—because there are no small spaces for them.

Zoning as usual will choke off replacement of existing hotel rooms and the ability to develop new ones profitably. It will deprive the city's economic engine of fuel.

It will leave Ketchum without wise plans to stave off traffic gridlock.

It will also leave taxpayers with some very expensive benches and trees.

It's time Ketchum quit wrapping empty boxes and calling them great achievements. It should proceed with the plan.




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