Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fourth Street buried in snow removal debate

Business improvement district postponed for now


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

With winter gradually beginning to peek around the corner of the calendar, the Ketchum City Council Monday juggled different ways the city might pay for and execute plowing and shoveling snow on the new Fourth Street Heritage Corridor.

"That's a lot of maintenance, a lot of upkeep," said Councilwoman Terry Tracy in reference to snow removal as well as storage of public art and other maintenance-related issues. "I don't think this was ever an issue that was debated as it should have been."

Snow removal won't be straightforward because of the curvy nature of the redesigned Fourth Street blocks, as well as bike racks and public art situated there. It's further complicated because business owners are only responsible for clearing snow from 10-foot swaths in front of their buildings. Sidewalks are now as wide as 23 feet.

"The whole thing's going to be a learning curve," said Ketchum Streets Department Manager Brian Christiansen in reference to clearing snow on Fourth Street. "We're just going to try it and see what happens."

Specifically at issue Monday, however, was the concept of paying for plowing and shoveling using a mechanism called a business improvement district.

Such a district is "a tool we could use as a means to have more than just snow removal on Fourth," said Ketchum City Administrator Ron LeBlanc.

LeBlanc explained that a business improvement district is created by petition, which must be signed by those owning or operating businesses within the proposed district that would pay at least 50 percent of any proposed special assessments.

"I think the council needs to have a discussion and come to a consensus on who's responsible for what portions of the sidewalk," LeBlanc said.

The City Council did not like the idea of forcing business owners to join a business improvement district this winter.

"I don't think we're in a position, given the history, to force people to do it this winter," said Councilman Steve Shafran. "But I think we are in a position to put people on notice."

Tracy said she does not want to see a bid for a business improvement district done piecemeal and added that she would like to see it include four seasons of maintenance, which would include things like installation and planting of flower pots and other public amenities.

With the prospect for a business improvement district on hold at the moment, the city still must figure out how to clear the streets and how to divvy up sidewalks.

"It's going to take some time to get that route developed and to figure out those streets," LeBlanc said. "A lot of what we're discussing is a learning experience for us. Also, we have to prove that we can manage this snow removal to the businesses. I think there's a reluctance among businesses to commit to costs until we prove ourselves."




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