Friday, February 29, 2008

Looking beyond building setbacks

Mountain town planners converge on Sun Valley for conference

Express Staff Writer

Eldon Beck, known for designing resort villages at Whistler, British Columbia, and Mont Tremblant, Quebec, opened up the 2008 Mountain Town and Resort Planners Summit by demonstrating the importance of maintaining historic feel and integrating into the natural landscape. Photo by David N. Seelig

Resort designer Eldon Beck posed a challenge to the approximately 80-member audience seated in Sun Valley Resort's Limelight Room for the keynote speech of the third annual Mountain Town and Resort Planners Summit on Thursday, Feb. 28.

"Do something more," said Beck, a landscape architect whose creative hand is behind the ski villages of Whistler, British Columbia, Mont Tremblant, Quebec, and Les Arcs, France.

For Beck, that means trying to create a town that, among many goals, integrates history and nature while creating a memorable experience for visitors—no easy task for understaffed planning departments faced with the demands of deep-pocketed developers.

"Delight, joy, happiness—we often forget these words in light of economic considerations," Beck said while scrolling through slides of idyllic mountain towns with wide pedestrian corridors and of European shop fronts tightly nestled together.

Though some of the examples would not be practical models for all the towns represented in the audience, the overall message was not lost.

"It's inspiring," Ketchum city planner Stefanie Webster said after Beck's presentation. "It's easy to focus completely on the process, but it's important to realize the impact of a building goes beyond the property boundaries."

Summit co-organizer Brian Grubb, based out of Jackson, Wyo., succinctly echoed Webster's sentiment.

"Planners have a tendency to think about ordinances more than design," he said.

Beck served to reinforce the importance of factors such as preserving mountain views, diversity of scale, and maximizing sunlight and pedestrian connectivity.

For Ketchum, the opportunity to put these design priorities into effect could be in the near future, with redevelopment of the Warm Springs base area.

Webster explained that one proposal is to create a pedestrian walkway along Picabo Street in front of the Warm Springs Lodge, with turnarounds for cars at either end.

Like nearly every sizable development that comes before the city, such a plan would likely find at least some public opposition. However, Beck said that it's possible to mitigate this through detailed analysis of how a development would impact sunlight and views.

Of course, looking at pictures is quite a ways from implementing massive development.

"Developers are spending their own money and want their own design," Sun Valley Community Development Director Mark Hofman said. "But if we can give our expert opinion early on, maybe the light bulb will go on."

For Hofman, giving direction to a project's design goes beyond building heights and setbacks.

"I think of it personally," Hofman said. "If I went there, would I feel included or would it just be some developer's exclusive private pocketbook?"

The conference continues today, closing with a speech by author and journalist Daniel Glick at 11 a.m. in the Limelight Room of the Sun Valley Inn.

Planners expound on Ketchum and Sun Valley

The following are some quotes overheard from planners from resorts across the western United States and Canada.

· "The strength is a great framework and historic past. The weakness is that it's tough to get here."

· "It's interesting to see an organic town, as opposed to a manufactured one like Whistler, that offers something more than just the resort experience."

· "What are the offerings of each base area? There's a real opportunity to create special places each with a different feel."

· "It seems like the off season because you don't have the people out there walking around."

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