Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Ketchum back in hangman?s noose

A year ago, when Ketchum awoke to a spate of business closures and the potential for mostly unoccupied single-family homes and townhouses to overwhelm downtown, the City Council imposed a building moratorium. That gave it time to revise its ordinances to protect the business core and to spur development of middle-income housing.

The city saw the hangman's noose around its neck. It knew that if the noose were allowed to tighten, the city would see its business base and sales tax revenues strangled, and its workforce disappear.

The city asked well-regarded consultants to tell it how to unbind its hands, destroy the hangman's noose and revitalize downtown.

The consultants gave the city a wise and balanced plan to increase the size of buildings, provide reasonable profit incentives in exchange for housing and commercial space, and enhance the mountain town's character at the same time.

Instead of embracing it on Monday, the City Council not only climbed back onto the scaffold, it handed the hangman the noose.

Three of four council members, with the sole exception of Steve Shafran, folded when faced with accepting a plan that could have revitalized the town.

The council did this by messing with the floor area ratio—a simple number that controls building size, but which scares and confuses most people.

The council ordered up a plan that removes the profit incentive and makes development of workforce housing a loser.

Did the council, its planning staff or attorneys ask the consultants about the effect on the plan? No.

Did the council accept the recommendation of its own planning staff? No.

Instead, it embraced a Planning and Zoning Commission recommendation driven by an irrational fear of so-called "big" buildings. It abandoned the very people it claims to want to protect—the middle class.

Housing advocates—apparently grateful for any crumbs they got—sat silent as the council bled off housing.

Downtown business owners who have previously testified to the urgent need for workforce housing were absent.

If a public hearing Thursday night does not change the council's mind, Ketchum could well end up a carcass—the town that put the noose around its own neck.

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