Friday, August 4, 2006

Parking top concern in Ketchum plan

Express Staff Writer

A vision of a beautified downtown Ketchum keeps morphing into a discussion about parking.

The Ketchum Planning & Zoning Commission held two special meetings this week to consider a downtown master plan, and what recommendations the body would send to the City Council.

"It's a policy document," said Planning Director Harold Moniz. "It focuses on ... how we're going to achieve some of those goals in the public sector like sidewalks and streets."

Economic development consultant Tom Hudson and city staff have been gathering public input since October on how best to revitalize the city.

"This is the culmination of a long, community-based process," Moniz said. "This is not Tom Hudson's plan, my plan, or the city's plan. It is the community's plan."

Phase 1, the framework, was adopted in February. Phase 2, a conceptual view of what the downtown should be, is in the process of public hearings at the P&Z level, and will be considered by the City Council.

Later this month, there will be more public hearings on the regulatory aspects of the plan that affect private development, including form-based codes, inclusionary zoning and a transfer of development rights system.

Although the master plan is a concept, public and commissioner comments this week often reverted to parking plans and details of implementation.

"I know we're trying to make this a walking community," said Woody Bryant, "but walking is a bit of an issue when it's 10 degrees out. We have to be very careful we don't discourage (people) from coming in because there's no place to park."

Steve Cook noted that many baby-boomers are aging and aren't able to walk far on icy pavement.

"If you are going to push parking to the perimeter, I wonder if part of the sidewalk improvement couldn't be radiant heat?"

A parking garage and underground parking are options under consideration, as are a jitney system and more pedestrian-friendly streets to encourage walking.

"If you build more parking, you will get more cars parking," said Ketchum architect Dale Bates.

Some members of the public were satisfied with the document for now.

"When I read the master plan, I look at it as a conceptual document," said architect and Ketchum resident Jim Ruscitto. "The details are some of the hard, pragmatic elements. I would encourage you to move forward to recommend the master plan. You can still come back and make adjustments to it (later)."

The Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors' Bureau, Advocates for Real Community Housing, and Citizens for Smart Growth also expressed support for the plan.

Aaron Domini, of Smart Growth, who said he "sleeps in Hailey" but spends all of his time in Ketchum, encouraged the city to move forward.

"Our competitors are not reliving the last 25 years," he said. "They're moving forward. I think we're going to lose second-home owners. I think we're going to lose businesses. I think we're going to lose skiers. I don't want us to get wrapped up for three or four months in cost."

Mickey Garcia, a frequent meeting attendee and critic of local government, said the city has wasted time and effort on studies that sit on the shelf, but was encouraged by this plan.

"I see in this plan a slight chance for it to be implemented," he said.

Sam Williams suggested the city set its sights high.

"This risk is not that you aim too high and miss," he said. "It's that you aim too low and hit. The overall good is what we're trying to shoot for."

Some P&Z recommendations to the City Council include:

· With the exception of Deborah Burns, commissioners recommended that the vision statement be shorter.

· Eliminate redundancy and wordiness in the plan.

"There's way too much grandstanding and patting ourselves on the back," said Commissioner Greg Strong.

· Prioritize the top third of the most pressing issues rather than including so many proposed in the plan.

· Consider creating sidewalks that bulb out into the street and enhance pedestrian safety and could accommodate evergreen trees.

· Support cleanup and snow-removal in heavily used alleys.

· Consider a one-way street on Fourth to accommodate cyclists and "heritage corridor" art.

· Study underground parking options, especially under the proposed town plaza site, before embarking on other aspects of the plan.

Regulatory aspects of the downtown master plan, including form-based codes, transfer of development rights and inclusionary zoning will be available today at the Ketchum Planning Department, upstairs at City Hall. The information will soon be available at Public hearings on those aspects of the plan will begin Aug. 15.

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