Friday, November 12, 2010

Returning to the hot seat

Ketchum to tackle contentious topic of grocery stores in LI

Express Staff Writer

Rarely does a city council meeting draw a crowd large enough to spill out of the room and into the hall, but Ketchum's meeting on Monday is expected to do just that.

The council is tackling possibly the most contentious decision now facing the city: whether to allow grocery stores in Ketchum's largest light-industrial area.

Council chambers were bursting at the seams the last and only other time the council addressed this topic on Oct. 18. For that reason, Monday's meeting at 5 p.m. will be in a much larger venue, the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood at the corner of Warm Springs and Saddle roads, which ironically sits almost adjacent to the Light Industrial zone's boundary.

The zone spans north to south from Saddle Road to Tenth Street and east to west from state Highway 75 to a little west of Lewis Street. A proposed amendment to allow grocery stores in the zone came about because of one property owner, Valmark, which owns the former Stock Building Supply site on Warm Springs Road. Valmark wants to build what it's calling the "Ketchum Market," a 31,500-square-foot grocery store and a stand-alone 3,155-square-foot drugstore. But to do so, Valmark needs the city to change its zoning rules.

The proposed amendment wouldn't automatically permit grocery stores—as is the case in the community core—but would allow them conditionally in the zone, meaning the city can permit or deny them on a case-by-case basis. The amendment states that to be considered for conditional approval, the business must meet the city's definition of a grocery store—a definition that the city's Planning and Zoning Commission agreed on but needs the council's approval. The council will take its first look at the grocery definition on Monday.

The grocery limitation is meant to exclude other retail business from creeping into the light-industrial area, a fear shared by many business owners. The proposed amendment states that grocery stores in the LI zone would need to employ at least 25 full-time-equivalent employees and provide affordable housing equal to 20 percent of the gross floor area, rules not imposed on grocery stores in the community core.

The city has received more than 40 letters and e-mails on the topic. Most of those in favor of allowing grocery stores in the zone are from Ketchum residents without businesses in town, while those against it are mainly from downtown business owners. The town is split and so was the P&Z when it recommended approving the amendment on Sept. 27.

"It's a big mistake—trust me," said Commissioner Rich Fabiano, the dissenter in the P&Z's 3-1 vote.

Trevon Milliard:

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