Friday, September 25, 2009

Incumbents left out of Ketchum forum

Non-incumbent candidates discuss development, affordable housing and comp plan

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum City Council and mayor candidates, from left to right, Mickey Garcia, Lee Chubb, Phyllis Shafran, Nina Jonas, Peter Lewis, Ed Simon and Carter Ramsay, participate in a forum at the Clarion Inn on Wednesday. Photo by David N. Seelig

Ketchum mayoral and City Council candidates debated the wisdom of proposed development at Wednesday night's forum at the Clarion Inn, but incumbent Mayor Randy Hall and Council President Baird Gourlay weren't there to defend their decisions. They hadn't been invited.

The forum was hosted by Clarion Inn owner and first-time council candidate Peter Lewis.

Participating were mayoral candidates Phyllis Shafran and Mickey Garcia and City Council candidates Lewis, Lee Chubb, Nina Jonas, Ed Simon and Carter Ramsay, who are running for two open council seats. Council candidate Jan Hegewald was the only missing non-incumbent. He said he had to work Wednesday evening.

The forum had been advertised in the Idaho Mountain Express. Clarion Inn director Nicky Gulliford said calls were made to the challengers inviting them to the forum but incumbents were left out of the loop.

Hall said he didn't know about the forum until shortly before it started, and called it "a one-sided argument."

"A friend called me and asked if I was going to the debate. I said, 'What debate?'" Hall said in an interview.

Gourlay said he saw the ad in the paper but was out of town.

Moderator Peter Scheurmier said at the forum's opening that incumbents weren't invited in order to promote the less-heard insight of newcomers, or more simply, "Where do we (Ketchum) want to go from here?"

Council candidate and former mayor Simon called that decision unfair. He said Hall and Gourlay are running for election the same as anyone else, and much of what would be discussed at the forum—new development at River Run and Warm Springs, a shrinking middle class and adherence to the city's comprehensive plan—had to do with their decisions.

The other six candidates who attended jumped right to the questions of audience members.

Most questions had to do with new development, whether it was Warm Springs Ranch Resort, the River Run base area, building more affordable housing or just building in general. Queries came from both sides of the argument: residents against new, large structures and developers who said they struggle against miles of red tape and local opposition.

One developer said it's a struggle just to make building projects profitable in Ketchum.

Mayoral candidate Garcia sarcastically responded, "You're a developer, therefore you're evil." Many in the audience laughed, but Garcia said it wasn't a joke. He said he's lived here for 20-something years and has seen the "cave banana nimbies" prevent Ketchum from growing or developing at all. He said "cave banana nimby" stands for "citizens against virtually everything, build absolutely nothing anywhere near anybody, and never in my backyard."

"They're the majority, and they're in charge," Garcia said. "It's the honest-to-God truth, and they don't want anything to change. Why are you trying to freeze a point in time on how this place looked when you got here?"

Garcia said he supports development at Warm Springs and River Run and any affordable housing project.

Chubb said he isn't against new development but wants to see resort sizes kept in check. Warm Springs Ranch Resort is much too large, he said.

"I'm very much against this lust for gigantism," he said.

Chubb emphasized considering the needs of homeowners, whom he called Ketchum's long-term investors. He said Warm Springs' 95-foot-tall hotel "alienates" them.

Garcia contended that "paranoia" about height is just another tactic to prevent growth of any kind, "to stop building in your backyard."

Lewis said that even though he's a hotel owner, he's not against large, extravagant hotels moving in on his territory. In fact, he said, he's fully for it.

"We need to be a top-tier resort," he said.

And to get there, he said, the town needs four-star hotels.

"We would get so much more economic vitality," he said. "And it would open up work for the middle class."

But, he said, it's not going to happen with the city's bogged-down permitting process, which needs to be streamlined to cut developers' costs.

Simon disagreed, saying the town shouldn't cater to developers, and any hotel isn't a good hotel. He called Warm Springs Ranch Resort too large for the area.

"I've read the development agreement," he said, "and I think the developer wrote it and the city signed off."

But Simon does support a new hotel at River Run and said it would be built below the town's elevation and wouldn't obstruct views.

"It has low impact on the neighbors," Simon said, "and a positive impact on the economy."

Jonas didn't say much on the issue of development. Ramsay commented that he supports both projects, especially Warm Springs.

"The new (resort) plans are a great vision," he said.

The night's other hot topic was candidates' outlook for Ketchum and how to make room for the middle class. What plan do candidates have in mind for the future of Ketchum? It's a pressing issue since Ketchum's 10-year comprehensive plan was written in 2001 and needs revamping.

Chubb, Simon and Shafran expressed disdain for current city leaders who they said are ignoring the comp plan. Garcia, however, said the plan is just an outline.

"The comprehensive plan is like the Bible," he said. "And look at how many people fight over what's written in the Bible. There's no such thing as not following the Bible."

Simon and Shafran argued that the council and mayor don't just ignore the comprehensive plan but also citizens, who come to public meetings and are ignored.

One item that all the candidates agreed on was Ketchum's need for more affordable housing, to make it a more livable place for the regular person. But there was little to no evidence of actual plans to get there.

A lot of talk did proliferate on returning Ketchum to greatness.

Lewis said Ketchum needs to return to its roots of being a world-class tourist town.

"That's why most people in the room moved here," he said.

But, again, details were skimpy.

Lewis, Chubb, Simon and Shafran said Ketchum residents are "grumpy" and "unhappy." They said the town needs to work together to bring a smile back to Ketchum. Lewis said happy locals mean happy tourists more willing to spend cash.

Trevon Milliard:

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