Keeping the peace wasn't easy for Doug Brown at an open forum on Wednesday discussing the implications of allowing the Ketchum Market, proposed for the former Stock Building Supply site on Warm Springs Road.
Brown, executive director of the Wood River Economic Partnership, organized the gathering at the Roosevelt Grille to separate fact from fiction. Chip and Whit Atkinson, owners and operators of Ketchum's only grocery store, Atkinsons' Market, attended but declined to comment on the possible competition.
However, the 40 others packed into the Roosevelt's back room passionately voiced their dueling opinions, splitting the audience into two camps. Critics of the market took control of the floor early on, arguing that its location at the southern edge of the city's Light Industrial zone—which currently doesn't allow retail except for small, industrial-related products like a lumberyard—shouldn't be diluted to do so.
Ketchum resident Neil Bradshaw referred to the city's 2001 Comprehensive Plan, saying 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 the downtown, as well as the industrial zone. He said empty space already exists in the downtown, but was interrupted by a woman in the audience shouting, "But is there parking?"
Others shared her sentiment, claiming that a grocery store doesn't belong downtown because people need to drive to carry their bags of groceries. And that requires land for a parking lot. One woman claimed that resort towns rarely have their grocery store in the retail core. That's where small, boutique retail belongs, she said.
And even though the commercial core may have empty buildings, Ketchum Associate Planner Mark Goodman said the industrial area has "acres of vacant property." Goodman said he is working at determining how much, but said the city has been looking at a way of "reinvigorating" the area.
"We don't have manufacturing companies banging down our door," Goodman said.
In an effort to spur business, the city and developer are proposing an Employment Enterprise Zone inside the LI zone. 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.
"We know there's a lot of discussion over whether it's appropriate to water down the LI zone to allow retail," said Ketchum attorney Jim Laski, representing developer Valmark of Friday Harbor, Wash.
Laski said that if the zoning amendment doesn't pass, the small grocery-chain company would probably leave the land vacant until it's sold.
To that, a woman spoke up who'd remained quiet the entire meeting while everyone around her sounded off. She said she's a newcomer, having recently moved here from Chicago.
"I'd like to be a business owner here, but you make it damn hard," she said. "I don't have the money to fight you all. You make it hard to get anything done."
Trevon Milliard: firstname.lastname@example.org
Retail 'leakage' study
On Monday, the Ketchum City Council unanimously approved funding a $12,500 study to ascertain how many north valley residents are driving out of the area for groceries and other retail items. The developer of the proposed Ketchum Market, Valmark of Washington, would pay $10,000 of the bill with the city picking up the remaining $2,500. "How much money is being spent outside of our community because we don't have it here?" asked Ketchum Associate Planner Mark Goodman.