For the week of July 8 thru July 14, 1998  

Don’t rush Ketchum’s new plan

Ketchum shouldn’t rush its new comprehensive plan to the printer.

When it releases the first written draft, it needs to end its informal process and begin a formalized process of collecting public comment.

Ketchum’s rewrite process has been informal in the extreme. The informality was new. It was cool. It included a town meeting served up with pizza, a street fair and planning discussions over brown-bag lunches.

However, what’s been offered so far is like cotton candy. It looks colorful and sweet, but as a steady diet it may drain one of energy and rot one’s teeth.

Ketchum will undergo major changes if ideas batted around at informal sessions are approved. Downtown streets could be closed to create a pedestrian mall, commercial areas may be downzoned, the Simplot property may be condemned for a park, buildings could shrink, some could grow taller and puddles of asphalt could grow into seas. Taxes and business overhead could increase.

Ketchum put the cart before the horse in a telephone survey last week. It collected anonymous opinions on specific questions about the comprehensive plan—like building heights and sizes, and downzoning specific commercial and tourist areas—before widespread public discussion had occurred. We hope it was not a foreshadowing of what’s to come.

The city began the plan to overhaul more than a year ago. It is just now on the verge of releasing a first draft.

The city used its street fair last summer to take Ketchum’s temperature. Planners asked people what they liked and didn’t like about the town. It was a fine way to get ideas, but the time for street fairs is over. It’s time for formal hearings.

The city needs more than one formal hearing on a plan it’s taken a year to write. It needs a series of hearings. The city’s current schedule lists a public hearing almost as an afterthought.

Public hearings have a lot to recommend them. They’re where trial balloons get blasted and fiction meets fact.

All of a plan’s parts are there and may be read in the context of other parts. People meet other people who will be affected by the plan.

People who comment cannot do so anonymously as they can in street fairs or surveys. They are identified as full-time residents, part-time residents, or non-residents. Points of view are offered and recorded in context. That’s important.

For example, someone who visits a couple of times a year during peak season may think mandating tiny buildings on huge lots to preserve Ketchum’s "character" is a grand idea. The person who has to generate business to pay the mortgage may think it will destroy the town’s ability to do business.

When the city last rewrote its plan, it took 52 weeks of formal public meetings before a final plan was adopted. In each meeting the public reviewed drafts of ordinances. They offered suggestions. Drafts were rewritten and reheard.

Today’s planning and zoning commission aims to finalize a recommendation on the new plan by the end of August even though it has not yet reviewed a rough draft. Not only is that overly optimistic, it would be a serious mistake.


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