Friday, December 17, 2010

Hailey wants history, not height

Comprehensive plan to be finalized Dec. 20

Express Staff Writer

Though the W.H. Watt Building at 120 N. Main St. in Hailey is on the National Register of Historic Places, the designation does not provide protection from demolition if the owner wants to redevelop the site. Photo by David N. Seelig

A phrase in Hailey's proposed new comprehensive plan that calls for relatively "high-density" development on Main Street in Hailey could jeopardize some historic buildings, including some that have earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

The City Council expressed concern Monday that Main Street buildings such as the W.H. Watt Building, built in 1881 and now housing the Christopher and Co. jewelry store, could be razed for future development to increase density according to the comprehensive plan's goals.

"It could mean ripping down some of these old buildings," Councilman Fritz Haemmerle said.

The council directed the city's planning staff to draft language to be included in the comprehensive plan that would include preservation of historic buildings as one of the city's goals.

It also instructed staff to draft language that would address building height restrictions on Main Street to preserve the open and spacious feel of the city.

Haemmerle said developing lots at the north end of Main Street for commercial development would save the center, older part of Main Street from becoming a narrow corridor of tall buildings.

"I wouldn't want to see Main Street filled with three-story, soulless banks, like Ketchum," Haemmerle said.

The comprehensive plan is scheduled to be finalized on Monday, Dec. 20, at a council meeting.

The city's zoning ordinance restricts building heights to 35 feet, but allows for up to 40 feet if the development includes at least one housing unit.

The city's historic preservation ordinance requires a 120-day waiting period before demolition of any building built before 1945 to provide an opportunity for an outside entity to step in and save the building.

Language in the comprehensive plan will reinforce those goals, said Planning Director Beth Robrahn.

Robrahn said the city's design review process, which includes additional standards and guidelines for the original Old Hailey townsite, including Main Street, is another way the city can work with developers to protect the historic character of the town.

"Design review can be used to try to encourage a remodel that is more consistent with the historical character of a building, but it cannot be used to keep someone from demolishing a building," Robrahn said. "They still have every right to do whatever they want to their building.

"Right now the city has no real financial incentives to work with developers to preserve historic buildings."

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