Friday, October 20, 2006

Ketchum urban renewal plan takes next step

Express Staff Writer

A stroll along the concrete pavement of Fourth Street in Ketchum could soon be more like a walk in the park.

The Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency is moving on a plan that will prioritize development and beautification projects, mostly downtown. A Fourth Street heritage corridor tops the list.

The Ketchum Planning & Zoning Commission discussed the urban renewal plan Wednesday, Oct. 18, following the plan's adoption by the URA on Oct. 16. The plan has to be reviewed and recommended, or not, by the P&Z, then sent on to the City Council. If the P&Z recommends the plan, its acceptance by the council is all but assured since they are the acting board of the URA.

P&Z commissioners opted to continue the matter to a special meeting Oct. 23 to allow more time to review the plan.

The plan is a subset of the city's comprehensive plan and incorporates parts of the capital improvement plan, with the addition of three affordable housing projects. Those projects, at Sixth and Leadville, Second and Washington and the north end of the Park & Ride lot on Saddle Road, were identified previously in the city's capital improvement plan as parking garages.

The P&Z has to review the plan to ensure it is in conformance with the city's established plans, such as the downtown master plan, the capital improvement plan, the comprehensive plan, the subdivision ordinance and the zoning ordinance.

"This is the most important piece of the puzzle," said City Attorney Ben Worst.

An urban renewal agency, which is an independent governmental entity, targets under-performing and deteriorated areas of a city, identifies specific projects within that area and, one by one, works to redress the issues.

The Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency supports its efforts by tax increment money. That means that the agency gets the year-to-year increased value of properties within an urban renewal area's revenue allocation area. That increment would otherwise be routed to other taxing entities, such as the county. School districts, however, still get their same allotment.

The URA's creation was suggested and promoted by economic development consultant Tom Hudson, with whom the city contracted last fall. The city has since contracted with him to serve as executive director of the Community Development Corporation.

While the urban renewal plan may reflect the same priorities as other plans, the priorities have shifted.

Rather than proceeding quadrant by quadrant, the city is moving the Fourth Street project to the front of the line, to be followed by a First Avenue promenade, City Administrator Ron LeBlanc said after the meeting.

"We'll bid out the Fourth Street heritage corridor the first week of March 2007, with construction to start in April," he said. Ideally, work will continue throughout the summer and fall, widening sidewalks, building new curbs and gutters, and creating space for future fountains or other visual amenities from Spruce Street to Main Street.

Also along the corridor, the city will create public art projects and creative features, which are being designed by a committee of private citizens this fall, LeBlanc said.

In 2007, work will continue down Fourth Street west of Main. The First Avenue promenade should get underway in 2009.

The city is holding back for now on construction of sidewalks and street lighting in other areas of downtown because multiple private development projects are required to take up those aspects as their projects are built in the core, LeBlanc said.

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