For the week of March 31, 1999  thru April 6, 1999  

Tower would mar mountain beauty

Find the tallest building in Ketchum. Look at the top. Now multiply by three. Crane neck. Now look at where the top would be. Feel that spasm?

The idea of a 100-foot tall cellular phone tower pained Ketchum officials so much that the City Council convened an emergency meeting last week and imposed a moratorium on cellular towers until it can determine how to apply planning, zoning or design ordinances to the tower.

Good for the council.

The proposed tower is nearly three times as tall as the tallest building allowed in Ketchum. The city’s current height limit is 35 feet. The tower is twice as tall as a proposed 50-foot height limit that elicited gasps from some residents when it was recommended by a consultant.

Some local political observers said the 50-foot building height limit has a snowball’s chance in hell of being approved. Why should a 100-foot tower be acceptable?

Yes, the tower will improve cellular phone service in the valley. It will make it easier for drivers to have phones pasted between their ears and shoulders. It will make it easier for moms and dads to keep in touch with kids. It will make doing business more efficient.

But Ketchum is about something besides efficiency. It’s about mountains and beauty. It’s about balance between work and play. It’s about trying to live with nature, not being at war with it. It’s about creating communities that are not at war with the people who live in them.

Much to its credit, Ketchum has resisted a lot of "musts" of the modern world. It has tried to incorporate the best of new ideas without not letting them run roughshod over community values.

Ketchum resisted when engineers said it must carve up its neighborhoods and its downtown with a freeway so that automobile travel would be more efficient. It rejected sprawl that would have made Highway 75 one long commercial strip.

The city balked when the rest of the world said it must have glowing internally lighted signs on every business. It fought businesses that insisted on putting glowing signs on tall poles.

The city played hardball to keep its post office downtown. It rejected the idea that every business must be surrounded by an expansive asphalt parking lot. It protected the Big Wood River from becoming nothing more than a drainage ditch. It was the first city in the valley to protect hillsides from "inevitable" development.

The tower could be seen from anywhere. It, and the red light that is likely to be its crown, will obstruct the open views of Baldy and the other mountains that gently surround the city.

The city has always questioned conventional wisdom. It has not been easily stampeded into running with the herd. It should not be stampeded into accepting an ugly tower that would mar the mountain beauty of the town it has worked so hard to protect.


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