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For the week of Mar. 1 through Mar. 7, 2000

Muster moxie to control downtown architecture

The politics driving Ketchum’s attempt to reduce the size of buildings in about two-thirds of its downtown became apparent during a review of a building designed for the highly visible Sun Valley Road site that used to be home to Louie’s Restaurant.

The "Peak" building has nice timbered balconies on two sides, but its "statement" features—four white-rocked elevator towers and a ‘50s-retro-style entrance—look like pieces of Miami or L.A.

If built as designed, the phones at City Hall will light up when the critics weigh in. But that will be too late.

That’s the reason the city is desperately trying to find a way to regulate downtown buildings.

At Monday’s packed hearing on the downtown section of a new comprehensive plan, P&Z members pleaded with the crowd to tell them what they should do about the rising community sense that new buildings are too big.

The city’s answer: Build them smaller.

The public’s answer: Design them better.

P&Z members suddenly looked like timid rabbits being pursued by voracious wolves. And it’s no wonder.

When a commercial building comes up for design review, P&Z members have precious few guidelines. Ketchum leaders could never muster the moxie nor the votes to seriously regulate downtown design.

During design reviews, P&Z members are beset by owners and architects who cry for total freedom. When the buildings go up, it’s P&Z members and city staff who are battered by noisy critics whose numbers seem to increase each year.

The solution? Ketchum needs to decide how it wants to look. It won’t be easy, and it’s bound to be noisy.

The city could start simply by looking at existing buildings and figuring out what a majority of people like.

For example, we haven’t heard anyone complain about the 19th century "big" buildings like the one that now houses Starbucks. On the contrary, people love it and want to protect it. This must mean they like red brick with wooden window trim.

No one complains about white clapboard buildings, like the old Louie’s building. Score 10 for this style.

People seem to like the timber and river rock ski lodges on Baldy, too.

On the other hand, every time a building with unrelieved multi-story stucco walls goes up, the phones light up at City Hall. They also ring loud when buildings look like they’ve been transplanted directly from the beach, the Southwest desert, the strip mall or the Acropolis.

The clues are there. The answers exist. City leaders must find the courage to impose design guidelines and stick to them.


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