Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Intense construction settles on Warm Springs neighborhood

Building spurs city action toward mitigating associated impacts

Express Staff Writer

While construction is booming throughout Blaine County, the effects have been particularly acute the last several years in a small Warm Springs Canyon neighborhood, where a number of large residential projects were erected in the span of only a few years.

Construction activity in the neighborhood on the west side of Ketchum spurred at least two lawsuits, and a number of the area’s residents com-plained to elected officials about noise, congestion and the overall incon-venience the glut of new construction caused.

“It can be brutal,” said Ketchum City Councilman Baird Gourlay, who lives with his family in a Sage Road home. “There was one going right across the street from us, a big duplex that was 8,000 plus square feet. There was a time when they were trying to get things finished when I counted 22 trucks on the street.”

Sage Road, a block north of Warm Springs Road, is a little more than a half mile long, and it is nestled against the big sagebrush-covered ridge that dominates the canyon’s north side. The neighborhood also is speckled with homes from a bygone era when real estate prices were less spectacular, but those earlier structures are increasingly being mixed with large second homes and duplexes.

From 1995 to 2002, eight homes and duplexes were built along Sage Road, according to a study compiled by Ketchum planners. In all, they to-taled 50,000 square feet, and construction in the area continues today.

A cursory examination of the neighborhood also explains why the ham-mer fell in earnest in recent years.

The steep hillside properties on the north side of the road are difficult to build on, and they are in constant danger of being swallowed by winter avalanches. For years, they remained relatively untouched, but they are now some of the last undeveloped lots in the canyon, which serves as one of the popular Bald Mountain base areas of Sun Valley Resort.

Whatever the cause, the effect was a period of intense planning, excava-tion and then construction, all within a confined area and a relatively short span of time.

The neighbors felt the fallout.

During the peak of the boom, mountains of dirt were piled on vacant lots. Construction workers’ vehicles lined both sides of the short street. The pounding of hammers and roar of diesel engines ebbed and flowed, day in and day out.

“I would come home, and there would be guys parked on my lawn,” Gourlay said.

Partially in response to the glut of construction on Sage Road, Ketchum city leaders enacted a construction mitigation policy for the entire city that asks general contractors to submit a plan detailing the scope of their work, as well as outlining their plans to make things easier on nearby businesses or homeowners.

Passed as a city resolution, meaning it is non-binding, the policy asks contractors to evaluate the scope of the excavation they will do, determine the routes trucks will drive, establish storage areas for building materials, site dumpster locations and outline parking areas, among other logistics.

From his perspective as a councilman, Gourlay said it seems to be working.

“Honestly, it’s gotten better now,” he said. “We didn’t want to do it in ordinance form. We didn’t want to go through the enforcement. Instead, what we’re trying to do is have the construction guys be the watchdogs for themselves.”

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