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For the week of Apr. 19 through Apr. 25, 2000

City on track for top hypocrisy honors

The city of Ketchum is now on track for taking top honors in the Department of Hypocrisy this year. Even with eight months to go and with local governmental lunacy at an unprecedented pitch, the city is going to be hard to beat.

Elected and appointed city officials cried crocodile tears this winter about downtown buildings becoming "too big." The council passed an ordinance targeted at stopping "big" buildings. Officials gave gratuitous speeches about preserving the town’s "character."

Yet, even as they spoke, they knew the city had given the green light to a private home on Knob Hill that is emerging as the embodiment of everything officials said they oppose.

For starters, the bunker-like house exceeds the city’s height limits. It is 59 feet tall. That’s 24 feet taller than the 35-foot limit. That’s almost 20 feet taller than the 40-foot limit for buildings with underground parking.

The home’s four stories, including a garage at street level, are dug into a hillside. Most of its height is visible from the street.

"A loophole," say city planners.

Building height is measured from the existing grade of the lot, they say. However, if someone digs down below grade there is no limit.

Hello, China. Here comes Ketchum.

Incredibly, the P&Z unanimously approved the home in January 1999. It did so despite the fact that the home obviously violates a review standard that calls for homes in hillside areas to minimize "material visual impact visible from a public vantage point entering the city or within the city."

The P&Z members clearly failed to consult their seeing-eye dogs before they voted.

Viewed from the north, the home’s enormous wing-like roof line looms over Ketchum like a bird of prey. The wing replaces what used to be a rocky hillside. It dominates even the tallest buildings in the downtown below.

The same year the P&Z approved the house, it also began hearings on a proposed downtown plan that called for reducing the size of some buildings by half, while others could have risen to a height of 50 feet.

Community outcry quickly shelved the 50-foot idea, but the Ketchum council warmed to cutting down the size of downtown buildings. The council recently passed an emergency moratorium that reduced size until the city puts new laws into place.

Hypocrisy? Yes, in capital letters.

The city council should dig into its bag of tricks and apply a similar moratorium on new residences before the downtown is dwarfed by any more alpine Taj Mahals.

After all, fair is fair.


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