Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Grocer withdraws proposed zoning change

Councilman asks for vote to deny grocery in LI

Express Staff Writer

Attorney Jim Laski listens to City Council testimony Monday night. Photo by Willy Cook

The developer of a proposed supermarket in Ketchum's light-industrial area has withdrawn his proposal from consideration by the city.

City Council members went into their meeting Monday already being asked by grocer Vern Howard to table his proposed zoning amendment that would allow grocery stores in the Light Industrial-2 zoning district. When the council's deliberation quickly developed into a motion to flat-out deny the amendment, Howard's attorney, Jim Laski, spoke up.

"Consider it withdrawn," Laski said, adding that his client would prefer that the amendment be tabled until the city rewrites the Economic Development chapter of its comprehensive plan.

With a withdrawal, Howard can reapply any time instead of being required to wait a year as he would if the proposal were denied. However, if he does reapply, he will have to start all over at the Planning and Zoning Commission before having an amendment considered by the council.

Councilman Baird Gourlay made the motion to deny, claiming that other developers are hesitating to invest in other projects across town until this issue is decided, and they may decide to leave instead of wait the estimated five months until the city rewrites the Economic Development chapter of its comprehensive plan.

Gourlay said he has talked with a developer planning a multi-million project who wouldn't move forward until this is decided. Gourlay declined to provide the developer's identity.

"To be fair to the community, we really ought to deny it," Gourlay said.

Mayor Randy Hall vehemently argued against that, asserting that Michael and Roxanne Lawler—owners of Roxy's Market to open early next year in the former Williams Market building on Main Street—knew of Howard's plan to build Ketchum Market at the former Stock Building Supply site when they signed their lease. He also cautioned Gourlay to remember that a "huge" segment of Ketchum wants the grocery store.

However, it seems the zone change would have a slim chance if brought back as is before the same council members. Gourlay and Councilwoman Nina Jonas have expressed opposition to allowing grocery stores in the LI, where they are not a permitted use. Even though Councilman Larry Helzel clearly stated Monday that he wants a grocery store on the Stock Building Supply site on Warm Springs Road, he said the zone change is "unacceptable" as written. He noted the questionable legality of requiring LI grocery stores to provide affordable housing as outlined in the proposed zoning amendment.

That means the amendment in its current form would likely fail by 3-1 or even 4-0, depending on where Councilman Curtis Kemp falls. Kemp has been on the fence for most of the discussions.

"This whole thing has been one of the most confounding issues I've dealt with," he said Monday.

Helzel said he's open to alternatives of somehow enabling a grocery store to be built on Howard's LI site. City Planning Manager Stefanie Leif pointed out that if a different solution were sought, changing the basic elements of Howard's requested zoning change, he would have to start all over at P&Z anyway—about the same outcome as a withdrawal.

It was at that point that Laski withdrew the zoning amendment, saying Howard will wait, expecting in "good faith" that the city will study its LI zone during the rewrite of it comprehensive plan rewrite, and the effect of a grocery store there.

Ketchum residents have been largely divided over the issue. Some have said the city needs more competition among grocery stores while others have said allowing such stores in the LI could harm the city's commercial zone.

Trevon Milliard:

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