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Hemingway in Sun Valley
Real Estate

For the week of October 4 through 10, 2000

Crash tests needed

Ketchum is in a delicate condition. It’s pregnant with the possibility of delivering handsome buildings into the arms of a lively town.

However, without careful handling, the nascent Design Review ordinance could stop the heart of the town.

A final draft of the ordinance is before the Ketchum City Council. In the crowd that packed city hall for a hearing Monday night, there was plenty of fear to go around.

The ordinance is far from ready for prime time, but it’s a good start.

The ordinance could stop monolithic buildings and force developers to be as concerned with how the town works and how it looks as with their own bottom lines.

It could also be the first major move in the city’s history toward a real solution to the housing shortage.

However, if the city doesn’t sweat the details, it could bring development to a halt, cause drastic drops in property values, make the housing shortage worse and create a single-use community that is deserted except during business hours.

The city council’s unenviable job is to prevent the latter and achieve the former.

In Monday’s hearing, members of an ordinance steering committee complained that the final draft of the ordinance had been rushed in an effort to meet a deadline imposed by the city council. They said city staff had not acted upon committee recommendations.

Downtown property owners and developers charged that the city hadn’t analyzed either the physical or economic effects of reduced building sizes, requirements for underground parking and size bonuses for affordable housing.

They’re right.

The city needs to conduct architectural and economic crash tests before it unleashes new downtown development standards that will have far-reaching effects.

A little computer modeling could help the city avoid the creation of unintended consequences--putting small businesses out of business or sending commercial sprawl down the highway, for example.

At the same time, the city should stay the course outlined in the ordinance to produce affordable housing within city boundaries by making it part of commercial developments. No one has yet found a better place for the burden of providing housing than the broad shoulders of the marketplace.

With some give and take between the city and developers, Ketchum could become an extraordinary place--beautiful, livable and lively. That’s a goal worthy of plenty of time, study and patience.


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