Friday, November 19, 2010

Council: Look at the big picture

I have been watching with interest the uproar over the effort to amend the Light Industrial zoning ordinance.

I sat on the Ketchum City Council from 1986-1991, during which time the city adopted the Light Industrial zoning ordinance. There was considerable discussion at that time, not surprisingly, sparked by an application for some retail use in the LI. For the sake of history and any questions of intent by that City Council, we limited the retail use in the LI zone to a status secondary to the permitted light-industrial use. The thinking at that time was that the downtown or commercial core of the town should be protected and its vitality nurtured.

Then as now, the downtown was struggling economically. The council also wanted to keep the core, just that, the core—a consolidated commercial-retail area that was convenient for pedestrian traffic; and an active, vital space for tourists and residents alike. There was definite intent on the part of that council to avoid strip development and to encourage shopping on foot. The reduction of car traffic was central to our thinking. At the same time, recognizing that the area zoned for light-industrial uses was limited, the then council felt it was critical to protect that zone for its original purpose.

It is important to remember that any change to an existing ordinance should be considered on its merits alone. Does the change make sense in a general context? To push for amendments because a specific application is seen as desirable is an irresponsible way to govern. One of the big dangers in such decisions is the unintended consequences of an action that doesn't take into account the big picture.

There is nothing easy about making these decisions. As a city council member, one is often sitting in a "hot seat." A great deal is at stake beyond the approval of a single applicantion. Critical and unemotional thinking should shape the final outcome.

Suzanne Orb


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