Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Waiver debate gets philosophical

Ketchum city council ponders growth philosophy

Express Staff Writer

A seemingly minor subdivision application sparked an impassioned debate among members of the Ketchum City Council during a meeting Monday.

Councilmen Larry Helzel and Charles Conn took opposing opinions on a request to split two lots on Warm Springs Road into four lots. The issue focused on the fact that in order to approve the application, the council would have to waive a section of city code that requires "every lot in a subdivision to have a minimum of 20 feet of frontage on a dedicated public street." As two of the lots would be located behind the other two, with a shared driveway for access, that requirement would not be met.

While the council approved the application, with Helzel standing alone in opposition, the issue led to a thoughtful discussion on the potential growth of the city.

"I think this ordinance is arcane," Conn said. "There is a movement away from 'Leave-It-To-Beaver,' driving-based subdivisions."

Conn said the trend across the country is for higher-density living arrangements in cities, negating the need to get into cars to travel everywhere. As living patterns change, Conn argued, it's necessary that the rules governing land use change as well.

But while Helzel agreed that a change in land use might be happening, he argued that granting waivers to city ordinances is not the proper method of achieving a transformation.

"By approving a waiver like this, it transfers significant value to the property while the city gets nothing in return," Helzel said in an interview last week.

During the meeting, Helzel said a waiver would make sense if the applicant made a beneficial offer to the city, such as providing affordable housing.

Though Conn thought it appropriate to allow the project in question to move ahead, he conceded that a more thorough review of city code would be the best remedy.

"I agree with Larry that it's silly to waive our way into the new world," Conn said.

To that end, both councilmen instructed staff to review the street-frontage ordinance, a move that could pave the way for further code review as city leaders grapple with future development.

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