Friday, August 4, 2006

Downtown blueprint deals with Ketchum?s big hairy problems

Full of happy visitors here for a respite from the travails of the larger world, Ketchum looks like it's on vacation.

But underneath the Patagonia-casual appearance, a lot of people are hard at work on the city's future.

Today, Ketchum releases its new Downtown Regulating Code for public review. It's a blueprint of what Ketchum could look like in coming decades. It's available at City Hall and should be available online at very soon.

People seriously interested in this should check out the new code soon because public hearings are scheduled beginning Tuesday, Aug. 15, and through the end of the month.

The document is the result of nine months of intense planning and public meetings. It's no ordinary blueprint. It's unlike anything ever done by planning departments in the Wood River Valley.

It addresses the big, hairy problems that plague Ketchum and its residents—and it does it with pictures and drawings.

Fear of ugly buildings: It calls for buildings residents say they like and that are in keeping with Ketchum's existing character. It outlines building styles that still leave room for creativity in design.

High land prices: It calls for increases in allowable building heights to 40 feet for three-story buildings, with four stories and 48 feet allowed in some cases, and five stories for hotels. Yet, a quaint and comfortable mountain style would prevail.

Lack of affordable space for businesses and housing: It outlines strategies for developing combinations of commercial space, luxury condominiums, and workforce housing that could keep the town alive even in the midst of the high-end residential tsunami.

Razing charming buildings to make way for more profitable ones: It sets up a system to entice owners not to tear down the buildings people love by allowing sell-off of development rights to projects in other parts of town better suited for larger buildings. It divides the city into sending and receiving zones for density.

Shrinking numbers of hotel rooms: It specifies four areas where hotels of up to five stories would be allowed. This would give developers certainty and the public foreknowledge of where such buildings could be located and remove the need for prolonged battles over large new hotels.

Design meets zoning in the document. That's why it's called a "form-based code."

It was put together by some of the best planners and designers in the business today. It requires thoughtful study.

The proposed code is a good start on Ketchum's future, far better than the harmful notions and back-of-the-envelope planning that shaped today's downtown.

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