Wednesday, August 30, 2006

City Council refines master plan

Final public hearing on vision document set for Sept. 5

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum's downtown master plan is nearing acceptance in theory, but the City Council is making refinements to the document to ensure its components are conceptual ideas rather than statements of fact.

Council members discussed the plan during a special meeting Monday, Aug. 28.

The idea of making downtown more pedestrian-friendly is embraced in theory by the council, but specific ways to implement that concept are undecided.

Council members consider Sun Valley Road ripe for retail development and a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere that could include wider sidewalks.

Getting rid of the bike lane is one way to accommodate that.

"One of my top priorities is to get bikes off Sun Valley Road," said Councilman Ron Parsons.

High-speed cyclists would still be allowed to flow with traffic on Sun Valley Road, but a bike route could be established on Fourth Street to move other bike riders to a safer corridor.

Council members were less enthusiastic about possibilities for Main Street, which accommodates state Highway 75 as it runs through town.

"I don't see how you can make a major highway pedestrian friendly," said Council woman Terry Tracy.

The concept of a heritage plaza, perhaps at one end of a Fourth Street heritage corridor, interested the council, but it kept it as an option for future study. It was left in the plan as a symbol to encourage other creative ideas.

"It's one more provocative idea that might come to be some day," said Councilman Ron Parsons.

The plan is a system of city-guided initiatives to strategically rebalance the community's physical place, housing and economy.

The city contracted with economic development consultant Tom Hudson, of Moscow-based The Hudson Company, to create the framework and implementation of a downtown master plan.

The city is working to finalize the plan while under an interim ordinance that prohibits all-residential construction in the Commercial Core, General Residential-High Density and Tourist zones.

Regulatory aspects of the plan are being reviewed separately and are currently under consideration by the Planning & Zoning Commission.

The council expressed enthusiasm with the notion of a design committee that could work on streetscapes and aesthetic components of the master plan.

It could include two city staffers and members of the public.

"They'll bring their recommendations (to the council) predicated on community involvement," said Mayor Randy Hall.

The council will adopt the master plan by resolution, possibly on Sept. 5 after a public hearing. Resolutions are less binding than ordinances, so the council won't be required to adhere to all of the plan's recommendations.

Aspects of the plan such as paid parking would, however, be adopted through an ordinance, which requires three readings at the council level and public hearings.

"Ninety percent of this stuff I'm strongly in support of," Gourlay said. But, "it does not bind a future council and it does not bind this council. It's a vision."

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