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For the week of October 4 through 10, 2000

Ketchum design proposals slammed

This time, they’ve gone too FAR


"I think I probably represent people who are concerned but are not here. At one of these meetings, someone stood up and said, ‘Where has Ketchum’s charm gone?’ Ketchum is ruined—that’s how people feel—they feel that no one will pay attention to them. I don’t think it’s a few buildings—it’s lots and lots that people aren’t happy with."

Marilyn Nesbit, West Ketchum resident


By GREG MOORE
Express Staff Writer

In a public hearing dominated by builders and downtown property owners, the Ketchum City Council on Monday received a barrage of criticism over proposed new regulations that would place stricter limits on the sizes of commercial buildings.

"I’m pretty much offended by this document—very offended," said Ketchum developer Beppy Dolsot. "This is an amendment to the constitution that says developers should not make money."

The proposed changes to Ketchum’s downtown zoning code were drawn up in response to an increasing pace of development and citizen complaints about recently constructed large downtown buildings. The document seeks to reduce the perceived mass of new buildings by adding more design criteria and to slightly reduce their actual mass by lowering floor area ratios (FARs), which measure a building’s floor area relative to lot size.

Previous ordinances permit a FAR of 1.4, with bonuses for underground parking or addition of residential space increasing the permitted FAR to 2.0. Under the proposed new regulations, base FAR would be reduced to 1.3, with a bonus for an addition of residential space raising that to 1.8.

Of the 30 people who spoke at Monday night’s hearing, 22 criticized those reductions.

Passage of the proposed FAR limits, they predicted, would produce a downward economic spiral ending in bankruptcy for many local businesses. Opponents contended that a reduction in floor space would require property owners to raise rents per square foot beyond business owners’ ability to pay them, and ultimately put an end to most downtown construction.

"As you can see from people showing up here now, they’re scared," Ketchum property owner Wes Nash told the council.

Councilman David Hutchinson pointed out that a FAR of 2.0 could only be reached as a bonus. He suggested that builders appear to have taken for granted that they would always be allowed such a high ratio.

"We’re talking about making a change in something that was extra," he said.

Opponents urged the council to take the time to analyze potential economic impacts of the proposed reductions before ruling on them. An often-repeated sentiment was that the proposed changes were a "knee-jerk reaction" to recent construction of a few unpopular buildings.

Only five people spoke in favor of reducing building mass.

"I think I probably represent people who are concerned but are not here," said West Ketchum resident Marilyn Nesbit. "At one of these meetings, someone stood up and said, ‘Where has Ketchum’s charm gone?’ Ketchum is ruined—that’s how people feel—they feel that no one will pay attention to them. I don’t think it’s a few buildings—it’s lots and lots that people aren’t happy with."

Some council members echoed Nesbit’s comments.

Councilwoman Christina Potters said average citizens appear at perhaps one meeting, "and think their voices are heard." Meanwhile, "developers come to every meeting and they pound and they pound and they pound and they wear these people out," Potters said, referring to city officials.

Council members voted to continue the issue to their Oct. 16 meeting. Councilman Randy Hall said the council needs to further address economic impacts and whether a reduction in FARs would have the desired effect on buildings’ appearances.

An additional issue addressed at Monday night’s hearing was the bonus to FARs granted through adding residential space to a commercial project.

"You’re making it mandatory to build affordable housing, because otherwise the economics won’t work," said Ketchum resident Henry Dean. "To me, that is social engineering at its worst."

Though a discussion of FARs dominated Monday night’s hearing, the issue makes up only a small part of the proposed new ordinance changes, contained in a 32-page document.

At the beginning of the hearing, Ketchum planning administrator Lisa Horowitz pointed out several significant features of the proposals, including:

  • A decision to abandon promotion of underground parking through FAR bonuses. Under the proposed ordinance, underground parking will be required for new buildings with a FAR of 1.3 or larger that are built on two or more lots.

  • The allowance of transfer of development rights to preserve historical, generally small, buildings.

  • FAR bonuses for construction of hotels.

  • A reduction in height limit from 42.5 feet to 40 feet.

The document states that "the mass and scale of new buildings should reflect the tradition of one- and two-story buildings found in the Community Core."

Three-story buildings are permitted, but only on the condition that the third story is set back 12 feet from the second floor on any street front.

Horowitz said in an interview yesterday that the proposed changes give more detailed tools to the P&Z to rule on building designs.

Jim Ruscitto, a member of a steering committee that helped draft the new ordinances, said at the beginning of Monday’s meeting that the proposed changes should "go toward reducing the visual mass of all these buildings that people were objecting to."

 

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