Friday, April 23, 2010

River Run plan poses problems for city

Maya J.B. Burrell lives in Ketchum.


Remember the movie "Chinatown"? With Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway? The plot is based in part on real events that formed the California Water Wars, a vast conspiracy centering on water management, state and municipal corruption, land use and real estate. Ketchum, welcome to Chinatown.

The city of Ketchum is getting ready to approve Sun Valley Co.'s River Run development. The problem is that neither Ketchum nor the company has enough water rights to supply the development. It says so in the water audit on file with the city. It also says that Ketchum's junior water rights are in danger of being shut off in time of drought. That's right. Ketchum's water rights are in danger of being shut off even without adding this development.

A few people spoke at the last city meeting about how the River Run property is owned by Sun Valley Co. and they should be able to do whatever they want with it. That is a narrow, naive and dangerous perspective.

All development has costs to the public. This particular development is located in an environmentally sensitive area. It is also located in a quiet neighborhood community where the proposed zoning changes would be drastic—changing from an agriculture/wildlife-zoned Blaine County to a Commercial District rivaling downtown Ketchum. How is the company entitled to this giant concession? What about the neighborhood's zoning and property rights?

The pro-development crowd also argues that the company's project will "save" our town economically by building a ski-in ski-out hotel. Again, this is a narrow, naive perspective. Tourism is based upon national and international financial variables beyond our control. Just because you build a hotel does not mean that people across the world will have the disposable income to travel here.

Rather, we should be focusing on new models for income generation such as an arts and music school, an environmental studies institute or a technology corporation headquarters. Remaining completely dependent upon tourism for our financial security is ruinous.

Sun Valley Co. is asking the city of Ketchum for three things regarding the River Run development: 1) Zoning and annexation changes (obviously). 2) Additional height allowances for the PUD (hotel). 3) Reduced parking ratio requirements.

Most people do not understand that the woods along the bike path south of River Run would be bulldozed by this project in order to build single-family houses. Most people do not know that the city of Ketchum has a potential water crisis on the horizon and that approving this project could involve the city (taxpayers) in water lawsuits.

If Ketchum intends to approve this project, then give the company what they want. Let them build their hotel as high as they want. Tall, not sprawl. Reduce the parking spaces to encourage public transportation. And in return, we get what we want. Save the woods. Preclude development south of Serenade Lane and Third Street. Locate the paraglider/soccer field north of Reinheimer Ranch so that in the winter Ketchum can continue using the area to dump snow.

However, back in Chinatown, the water problem remains. The compamy may promise they have water rights to give to Ketchum but this is smoke and mirrors, a magic lantern. Several lawsuits are pending against the company for overusing their water. Audits and litigation of company water rights are looming in the near future. Does Ketchum really want to climb in bed with that?

Regardless of how Ketchum solves the bigger water problem, without question the River Run development must be downsized. Downsizing coincides perfectly with protecting the character of the human and wildlife community that presently resides in the area.

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