Friday, October 28, 2011

Citizens chime in on Ketchum’s future

More than 200 people, including a sizeable youth contingent, provide input

Express Staff Writer

Planning Our Common Future guest speaker Chris Gates talks to a full house during a town hall meeting Wednesday at River Run Lodge. The community came out in force to provide input on the Ketchum comprehensive plan update. Express photos by Roland Lane

More than 200 people turned out Wednesday night at the River Run Lodge for the kickoff of Ketchum's comprehensive plan update.

Keypad polling provided real-time results to nearly 40 questions about the city's present and future, giving insight into what residents of Ketchum and beyond want the city to be.

"Great towns don't happen by accident," said Mayor Randy Hall. "It takes a vision."

The city recently started working on rewriting the 2001 comprehensive plan, a document that guides land use, development, growth and infrastructure, but at its heart serves as a community's vision for itself.

"Comprehensive plans are most effective when used as a tool to talk about a desired future," said guest speaker Chris Gates, executive director of PACE, Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement. "Great communities are intentional. The future isn't something that happens to you. The future is something you create. Decide who you want to be, then go get it."

One thing became apparent early in the evening: Ketchum needs to be more livable for a younger demographic—providing more jobs, more affordable housing and more opportunities that appeal to that group.

A question asking about issues that could spell trouble in the future prompted a quarter of respondents to identify the aging population and ability to keep young people in the area as a significant issue. Lack of jobs that pay a living wage was the No. 2 response.

Opportunities to positively affect Ketchum's future and enhance its vitality included attracting and retaining young people and families as well as building a more diverse economy that includes jobs for that younger segment.

"We're sensing a priority," Gates said. "And remember, this is a pretty (age) diverse group. Clearly, this is a big deal."

The large turnout of the under-40 crowd pleased city officials.

"I'm extremely impressed that there's a younger demographic," Hall said. "I'm very excited that you guys are here."

Data showed that 1 percent of attendees were 20 years old or younger. Age groups 23-30, 31-40, and 60 and over each represented about 20 percent of the audience. People 51 to 60 made up 26 percent, and 41-50 year-olds made up 12 percent.

The vast majority, 96 percent, were full-time residents, with nearly half of those having lived in the valley for more than 21 years.

A question that asked the most important reason people live in Ketchum resulted in a three-way tie for small town/friendliness; great skiing/recreation; and the beautiful environment. Not surprisingly, those were attributes the group most wanted to protect.

The attribute people felt was most vulnerable is an "alive downtown," with nearly half the respondents selecting that over other amenities such as arts and culture or trails and open space.

A question asking whether people feel Ketchum should be strictly a resort destination, a more economically diverse town or some combination of both landed nearly 70 percent of people on middle ground.

Other questions established priorities, concerns and possible action items involving issues such as the environment, transportation, development, shopping and continuing education.

"It seemed like there was quite a bit of unity in the room, or common goals," Steve Cook, Ketchum Planning & Zoning commissioner, said Thursday.

Attendee George Giroux, an East Fork resident and Ketchum commercial property owner, said he was glad to participate in the event.

"A comprehensive plan is a key piece, not a guideline, but an important part to setting goals," he said. "Obviously, (the city) did a good job getting the word out."

One thing that surprised him was the strong support for continuing education options.

"I didn't know that people felt a higher education opportunity was such a high priority," he said, adding. "It's the perfect thing this community needs."

The large and diverse crowd provided a good starting point, but city officials acknowledge there are many more residents whose opinions should be sought.

"Even though we had a great turnout last night, we still have a thousand (plus) people we need to reach," Hall said in a meeting Thursday morning to recap the town hall event and plan next steps.

The city initially envisioned two years for the process, but at the meeting Thursday some officials suggested paring that down significantly to keep people engaged.

"I think we ought to fast-track this," Councilman Baird Gourlay said.

City staff will create a work plan, including outreach, data compilation and report writing.

"It's going to be a multi-pronged approach," said Lisa Horowitz, Ketchum's community and economic development director.

In the coming weeks, city staff will be teasing out information from responses. Though voting was anonymous, the polling devices captured profile data, which can then be linked to responses to each question.

Focus groups and other meetings will be scheduled based on information captured at Wednesday's meeting.

Once a draft report is ready, staff will present it to the Planning & Zoning Commission, which will suggest changes then pass the document to the City Council.

Work on some priorities doesn't have to be put on hold until then, Hall said.

"We don't have to wait until the end of the comp plan process to achieve some of the goals we know are important to the community," he said.

Rebecca Meany:

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