Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Ketchum hones in on density cap

Council veers away from consultant?s advice

Express Staff Writer

Zoning regulations that address design and form are not incompatible with controls over the footprint of a building, the Ketchum City Council determined this week.

The mayor and council are debating two systems—form-based code and floor area ratios—that determine land use and a vision for a city.

Buildings are currently regulated by setbacks, design review and floor area ratios. FARs control a building's size by how much space it takes up in relation to its lot. A form-based code system focuses what buildings will look like, controlling the physical form primarily, and land-uses secondly.

Ketchum city staff and consultants drafted a Downtown Ketchum Regulatory Code, which incorporated recommendations from the city's downtown master plan. One recommendation the Planning and Zoning Commission did not take up was jettisoning FARs in favor of form-based codes.

"There was concern at the P&Z level about bulk and how to control that," Planning Director Harold Moniz said at the council's meeting Monday, Oct. 23. "They needed or wanted a cap on FAR."

The P&Z recommended a maximum FAR of 2.25 in the Community Core zone, a number the council seemed to be in agreement with.

Jack Rutherford, P&Z chairman, said Monday that the commission thought keeping FARs would offer more regulatory authority.

"There's nothing inconsistent about having both," he said. "This is a form-based code with a little FAR backstop ... and will work together to give us interesting buildings."

Current regulations allow a floor-area ratio between 1.4 and 1.75 for most buildings downtown, with a three-story maximum. The new proposal would expand the range from a 1.0 minimum to a 2.25 maximum FAR. Buildings with more than a 1.0 FAR would have to include 20 percent affordable housing.

The downtown master plan, created with public input under the direction of economic development consultant Tom Hudson, proposed no floor-area ratio cap, in part because greater density allows for more people living and working in places the city is trying to revitalize.

Although Hudson may have recommended increased density, not every council member agreed with the approach.

"I don't think anyone expected us to rubber-stamp that plan," said Councilwoman Terry Tracy, adding she would be happy with a 2.0 FAR cap.

"I think it's fair to say Tom (Hudson) was more comfortable with bulk than the P&Z," said Councilman Steven Shafran.

Participants in workshops and public meetings on the master plan expressed desire for additional affordable housing and an enlivened downtown.

Many, however, also wanted to keep the small-town feel that makes Ketchum special. The ordinances that come out of the Ketchum City Council this month will be the city's best attempt to strike a balance in that conundrum.

"There's an aesthetic component to this answer, but there's also a housing need that's equally important, or more important, to public policy," Shafran said.

He noted that the public process leading up to the plan's creation suggested that the community was comfortable with more density, and added that many thriving and attractive communities, such as Georgetown in Washington, D.C., and Greenwich Village in New York City, had rows of housing and high density.

"I don't have an intuitive fear of it, and I didn't hear it at the public hearings," he said.

Councilman Ron Parsons said a high FAR would be an irreversible decision.

"I'm afraid of too much FAR," he said. "If we have a huge FAR, we'll never be able to go back down."

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