Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Do no harm

Hailey needs to step carefully as it considers what it might do with city-owned property that may revert to its ownership and other property that would require new zoning if the Friedman Memorial Airport relocates outside the city.

Last week, independent planning consultants for the city, Blaine County and the Airport Authority proposed uses for the property that included a satellite college campus, research and development operations, housing, a hotel and conference center and big box stores.

The proposal showed the limitations of planning in what is the most unsettled economic environment since the 1930s. In 2008, the boom in the Sun Valley area went bust along with the national economy, and three years later the area is still looking for a way back to prosperity. Any decisions on future zoning for the airport property should be viewed in light of the economic facts of today and not through rose-colored glasses.

In deciding what land uses should be allowed if ever the airport actually moves, the city's goal should be to do no harm to the valley's existing businesses and owners that steadfastly provided jobs and services in good times and bad. The city should look for uses that complement, not destroy, established activities.

Creating a zone for big box stores doesn't meet that test. Adding more housing across from the city's most foreclosed neighborhood doesn't either.

Big box stores would suck the life out of small businesses in Hailey. They could leave Main Street a ghost town. Adding units to a rocky real estate market could hurt already struggling homeowners.

City leaders shouldn't let the glitter of future gold blind them to economic realities that look to be with us for a long time to come. Consultants may be optimists, but Hailey's mayor and council are elected to be realists.

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