Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Donít mess with success

If Ketchum and Hailey ignore the lessons of 20th-century community planning, they could become the agents of their own undoing in the 21st.

Shopping malls and mini-malls located outside city centers were the hallmark of poor planning in the 20th century.

They stopped the hearts of thousands of intimate town centers where small businesses of all kinds had done business synergistically in pedestrian-friendly ways.

They turned towns inside out and left some looking like ghost towns as cold, big box stores and mini-malls surrounded by seas of asphalt grew up around them.

Once beautiful city streets became pollution-choked, oil-gobbling neon thoroughfares as customers were forced to drive from store to store, and mall to mall.

Cities in the Sun Valley area successfully resisted this misguided development. Blaine County cooperated by refusing to strip-zone areas for commercial development outside the cities. For their part, the cities concentrated retail businesses inside their borders.

But today, both Ketchum and Hailey are toying with zoning that could destroy their downtowns from within.

Ketchum now has an extra-large and underdeveloped area zoned for commercial development. Even so, it is considering expanding the area by rezoning a large part of its Warm Springs Light Industrial zone for commercial development.

The move would split the existing downtown retail core into two parts, which would harm the synergy of existing businesses and create a gravitational pull that could rip the carefully crafted downtown apart.

Hailey is looking at a similar scenario if it decides to allow commercial development at the airport when the site becomes vacant. Pressure on the city to zone the land for commercial development will be high because money from sales of some of the land that is publicly owned will help pay for the new airport.

Zoning the land for commercial development could split Hailey's downtown into two parts and send its already overlong Main Street sprawling. The folly of this kind of zoning can be seen all over the West, and Hailey could be next.

Hailey and Ketchum should stick to their plans and their community ideals.

Hailey shouldn't let dollar signs in its eyes penalize existing businesses and erode its retail center.

Ketchum shouldn't let the tempting chimera of endless parking and cheap groceries from a second supermarket break up its downtown.

Hailey and Ketchum are what most towns in the West aren't anymore. They're intact, they're compact and they work.

Why mess with success?

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