Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Concerns raised about new grocery

City commences review of plan to allow Ketchum Market in LI zone


By TREVON MILLIARD
Express Staff Writer

The proposed Ketchum Market received its first public critique at Monday's Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, but neither commissioners nor commenters found fault in allowing a second grocery store in town. However, the project brought a pair of larger issues to light.

The first is congestion of Warm Springs Road and needed intersection improvements, regardless of this project at the former Stock Building Supply site at the intersection of Warm Springs Road, Tenth Street and Lewis Street. The commissioners agreed they would be best done in concordance with market construction.

However, the direct threat to the grocery store arose from several locals' concerns that allowing the grocery store in Ketchum's light-industrial zone would hurt the downtown by setting a dangerous precedent for future retail stores. Several locals argued that if a grocery store is given an exception and allowed to operate in the industrial zone—where land is cheaper—other retailers might move there as well, creating a new retail core and killing downtown, as well as the industrial zone.

And the city can't merely give the grocery store a one-time exception to light-industrial rules. It must amend the zoning code to create an Employment Enterprise Zone inside the Light Industrial. That proposed amendment would permit a broader range of businesses to open there—such as the market—as long as they employ at least 25 full-time workers and operate year round. The new zone would also require businesses to be under single ownership and meet Ketchum's community-housing obligations. The housing rule states that community housing must be equal to 20 percent of the project's gross floor area.

The Ketchum Market application includes plans for 7,305 square feet of affordable housing, or 10 units, above the store. That would meet the housing requirement because the market's preliminary site plan outlines the footprint of a 31,500-square-foot market and a stand-alone 3,155-square-foot drugstore, with 98 parking places planned on site.

Neil Bradshaw, head of the Affordable Workforce Housing team within the Ketchum Community Development Corp., expressed opposition to the grocery store on this site regardless of the housing that would be offered, stating that zoning shouldn't be rewritten to suit one project. Bradshaw emphasized that his comments were his own and did not represent the CDC.

He said that if the code is changed, it should be done with an understood purpose for the city as a whole, and not just to pave the way for one grocery store. And, he said, giving retailers a second part of town to set up is not a good idea, especially with many downtown storefronts sitting empty. He said expanding the commercial core is clearly warned against in the city's 2001 Comprehensive Plan.

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"Maintain a single concentrated Community Core permitting only limited commercial uses outside the core," Bradshaw read from the plan and then skipped to another excerpt. "Gradual displacement of the current light industrial uses by retail and commercial service uses would have undesirable impacts. It would shift the city's economy and character toward sole dependence on retailing and services."

He said the city should stick to its plan and not contradict it.

But the comprehensive plan is not a "suicide pact," argued Ben Petzinger, area manager for Okland Construction. Planning and Zoning Commissioner Sam Williams agreed, saying the plan is a guide and not "cast in concrete."

Williams said a grocery store couldn't happen in downtown, regardless, because of the number of parking spaces required. Several locals commented to the same effect, saying this problem already burdens Atkinsons' Market.

Regardless of differing opinions, one point received nods from almost everyone.

"This will be the biggest decision you make," Bradshaw told the P&Z.

Petzinger later agreed.

And Williams said he understood the weightiness of the "big decision." He said the P&Z would, however, have several meetings to consider the implications of creating the Employment Enterprise Zone before coming to a decision.

The next meeting date for this topic has yet to be decided.

The landowner of the proposed Ketchum Market is Valmark Inc., the holding company of King's markets, based at Friday Harbor, on San Juan Island, in Washington.

Trevon Milliard: tmilliard@mtexpress.com




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