Friday, March 2, 2007

Hotel decision missed the mark

Does city have the right priorities?

Sharon Costa de Beauregard is a resident of Ketchum.

The developer of the proposed Bald Mountain Hotel has withdrawn his application. It is sad that the City Council rushed this through without sufficient consideration of arguments for the inclusion of the Bald Mountain Hotel site as a "Receiver" in the city's transfer of development rights program. It was painful listening to and observing the arrogant manner of a council member when questions were asked.

During the Feb. 20 meeting, many comments for inclusion received an abrupt dismissal by the mayor. Councilman Steve Shafran attempted to explore comments on both TDRs and the Stevenson project. Terry Tracy spoke for "not selling heart and soul of Ketchum's Main Street to anyone." She means well, but I am sorry to say, "a little too late due to large Main Street bank approvals in the 'heart' of Main."

The large bank buildings have set the boundaries of the historic structures, not the hotel. The charming view corridor on Main Street has forever been changed by four large bank buildings. First Bank of Idaho, a large building at First and Main, obstructs the hotel site's view of "old Ketchum."

To use the hotel as a scapegoat for the city's prior approval of large bank buildings is unfair. The Main Street bank buildings have little open space, are dark at night, and have eliminated portions of western views. All streets in the downtown core have the "Receiver" option (including high-elevation streets) except the Bald Mountain Hotel and the Kentwood Lodge. Why the penalization?

Should a developer willing to take a huge financial risk be reduced to "groveling" when he has submitted a fair application in accordance with others? Was the decision to exclude the Bald Mountain Hotel site as a "Receiver" a capricious political blunder? Is it yet another hurdle requiring application for a code change?

Let us not forget that the council's excuse of "they initially submitted a four-story hotel" was before the council created two hotel sites on the next block and further granted them "Receiver" rights, while excluding the Bald Mountain site. Very few appear to be against that site as a "Receiver."

What was the basis for the council's decision? Where are the opposing letters? Who are the supporters? Has this decision risked Frontier Air choosing Hailey?

The council meeting on Feb 20 focused on topography, views, and "building mass." My concern was the push for unattractive same-height buildings ("crewcut") on the south end of Main Street. No village or city view would be architecturally pleasing if all large buildings were the same height. The Clarion hotel on the north end of Main Street has the potential to be a massive structure with more impact than the Bald Mountain Hotel site.

The Bald Mountain Hotel has more open space within its proposed structure (35 percent) than any other building on Main Street and more than many buildings in the commercial core. The public park on Washington Street is accessible from the hotel and offers views on landscaped lawns, and serves as a venue for concerts with a restaurant in close proximity. It also offers the possibility of temporarily closing Washington Street for a function. The park area and the hotel would create the most visually appealing Main Street building; even with five floors. The hotel would complement adjacent structures, create community and be a "crown jewel" for Ketchum.

It is important to consider the jobs and housing the hotel would create, versus the city project that will cost taxpayers millions, provide no jobs, no free housing, and is basically a real estate venture; risky in that the city has no proven success in designing and building such a project.

Should the community question giving up free city-owned land and valuable zoning changes to a project in town? Consider the comparison of the meager amount of in-lieu fees for affordable housing on a $55 million project versus free city-owned land and zoning changes to another developer. Do you feel the city needs "a sharper pencil" when paying costly fees, giving away land or zoning rights? What power do we have when we discourage through arrogance, and withhold certain "like" privileges to developers willing to take a huge financial risk? Whose future are we jeopardizing? The developer can take his dream, and ours, elsewhere.

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