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For the week of October 11 through 17, 2000

P&Z changes marks on city’s measuring stick

FAR calculations revised

Express Staff Writer

In the midst of revising maximum building sizes for future downtown commercial projects, Ketchum city planners discovered they haven’t consistently measured building sizes in the past, resulting in variances of up to 200 square feet.

At issue is the method the city uses to calculate building bulk, called the floor-area ratio (FAR). At a Monday evening meeting, the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously, with Commissioner Baird Gourlay absent, to clarify the methods the city will use to calculate FARs.

A FAR, in its simplest explanation, is a building’s floor area divided by its lot size.

The clarification will consist of an amendment to Ketchum’s zoning ordinance, dictating that elevator shafts and stairwells will be counted toward a building’s total FAR. Also included will be atrium space that is at least 18 feet over ground level, calculated at half the square footage it occupies.

At Monday’s meeting, Commissioner Peter Gray pointed out that the areas affected "contribute to the visual mass, bulk and scale of the building."

Ketchum planning administrator Lisa Howowitz called the existing ordinance vague.

The ordinance states: "Gross floor area means the sum of the horizontal area of the building…including each floor level…"

Horowitz said different planners, as well as different architects, have been calculating FARs in different ways, based on their interpretation of the ordinance. Some have included stairway and elevator space on all of a building’s floors. Others counted that space only on ground floors.

Atrium space has not previously been included in FAR calculations.

Horowitz said planners’ inconsistent measurements could have resulted in discrepancies of as much as 200 square feet in some buildings—an amount she called fairly insignificant in an interview yesterday.

"We’re talking about 200 (square) feet of a 20,000 square foot building," she said. "It’s good to get it squared away, but the degree of variance within the department was so small."

The amendment comes at an awkward time, however. The Ketchum City Council is poised to adopt new design review regulations that set smaller FARs citywide. Inclusion of stairwells, elevator shafts and atrium space in FAR calculations, where they were previously not included, would itself result in slightly smaller building sizes.

Local architect Derek Ryan cautioned the P&Z that reductions in allowed FARs under the proposed ordinance were based on the appearances of buildings that may have been allowed under more liberal methods of calculation.

"If we change the rules, then we should factor that into the FAR that we target [in the revised design review ordinance]," he told the P&Z.

Horowitz said whether that happens or not will be up to the P&Z and the city council.

The P&Z also discussed the possibility of including underground parking entryways as part of the FAR calculations, but decided to first examine the impact of such a move on developers’ willingness to build underground parking.

Including underground parking entryways could have a significant impact on a building’s total FAR, Horowitz said.

The P&Z is merely a recommending body on ordinance changes; the issue will go before the Ketchum City Council sometime in November.


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