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For the week of Sept. 8, 1999 through Sept. 14, 1999

Don’t breach ban on commercial sprawl

If Ketchum and Blaine County aren’t careful, they will soon create loopholes in local zoning ordinances that will wreck the valley’s ban on commercial development on the highway.

It will all be done in the name of good planning and good health care—with disastrous results for the community at large.

In a hastily called meeting last week, the Ketchum City Council and the Blaine County Commissioners heard McHanville property owners say they want no restrictions on commercial development in the blighted area in the county south of Ketchum.

Officials also have a July 26 memo from the private St. Luke’s Community Council that states that it is critical to the financial health and long-term viability of the hospital that the hospital be allowed to add new facilities for various services.

One of the "facilities" is a 40,000-square-foot medical office building to be owned by the hospital—nearly 70 percent larger than the hospital’s existing permit for a 24,000- square-foot medical office building.

In addition, the hospital wants to be allowed to operate facilities for outpatient care, therapy services, dining and meeting rooms. It wants garage parking and parking for mobile medical services and recreational vehicles used by people related to patients.

The combination of unrestricted commercial development, a hospital that has its eye on expansion before its doors have even opened, and a county that does not review the design of any commercial buildings is a volatile cocktail.

The enormous medical office building will draw professionals from existing commercial space in both Ketchum and Hailey. The memo said the hospital even wants to provide office space for dentists

The hospital apparently wants to be in more than the hospital business. It wants to be in the landlord and property management business.

The whole mix could turn Blaine County’s comprehensive plan on its ear.

Development of office space and removal of restrictions on commercial development at McHanville will create lots of pressure for similar development on other lands that are currently zoned for residential development.

Owners of nearby properties will argue that development of more intense commercial uses at McHanville will make their lands less attractive for residential uses. They will argue that they should also become "special planning" areas like McHanville, or outright commercial zones.

Once the argument is successful, once the ban is breached, the dominoes will fall. The door could open to the whole panoply of development—from pharmacies to gas stations—all the way from Ketchum’s southern border to Cold Springs.

Creation of a large commercial satellite at McHanville is not good planning.

Forcing everyone to drive an already overburdened highway to get to appointments with doctors, dentists, therapists or other medical professionals is not good community planning.

Voluntarily tipping over the first commercial domino on Highway 75 is not good planning.

In May 1996, valley residents voted to build a local hospital—not an urban-style medical center--when they compromised on a site, agreed to close two hospitals and invited St. Luke’s to locate south of Ketchum.

Residents did not vote to disfigure their beautiful valley with ugly sprawl.

Residents did not vote to overturn 25 years of planning that kept the valley from succumbing to the ailments of its urban cousins.

Residents did not vote to allow construction of commercial buildings without any public oversight of design.

Residents did not vote to remove the ban on commercial development along the highway.

Residents did not vote to create a commercial satellite that would compete with existing downtown commercial districts.

Residents did not vote to allow their public officials to discuss important zoning issues in cozy meetings with vested private interests.

Residents did not vote to allow public officials to give them a scant 48 hours notice posted at City Hall and no published notice for issues as important as the future of the area around the hospital.

Residents did not vote to eliminate manufactured housing or mobile homes in McHanville.

Residents did not vote to have officials ignore the need for public transportation to be extended to the hospital.

Yet, city and county officials are behaving as if voters approved all those things along with the hospital site.

Residents and visitors want and need good health care. They also want and need a wisely planned valley community.

The quest for good health care should not be an excuse for destroying the valley’s special character and quality of life. McHanville should not be an excuse to embrace poor community planning just because it’s easy.


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