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For the week of January 10 through January 16, 2001

 Construction dig sparks concerns

Express Staff Writer

Excessive excavation at a hillside construction project on Sage Road in Warm Springs canyon has triggered immediate action from Ketchum City Hall.

The size of the excavation at the site sparked concern among area residents and city leaders about slope stability, avalanche danger, the acceptable limits of disturbance in the city’s mountain overlay zone and excavation and stockpiling practices, Ketchum planner Harold Moniz said during a visit to the site Tuesday.

One of the purposes of the city’s mountain overlay zone, according to the city’s zoning code, is "to protect hillsides in Ketchum, which are physically and topographically unique…"

When it was approved, the duplex project’s developers, Hillside Ventures, told the city’s planning and zoning commission that approximately 2,000 yards of material would be removed from the hillside to make way for a large retaining wall at the rear foundation of the building, Moniz said.

"We have reason to believe they’ve gone beyond that," he said.

Sage Road resident Scott Curtis, also a local developer, said in a conversation Monday night that he estimates 10,000 to 20,000 yards of material have been removed.

The city requires developers to obtain a permit if more than 5,000 yards of material are to be removed.

The material is being stored on a vacant lot across Sage Road, covering most of the lot 15 to 20 feet deep. Moniz said the pile was 35 to 40 feet tall before the city’s building inspector asked that it be taken down a bit.

Hillside Ventures representatives were not immediately available for comment to answer why so much dirt has been moved, but the problem for Sage Road residents remains.

"It’s disruptive and rude and dirty," said Sage Road resident Catherine Fischer at the P&Z meeting Monday night. "It’s like having a movie set nearby, like Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

During a meeting Tuesday morning, Ketchum city staff met to discuss steps they can take concerning the matter.

Moniz said the city will undertake a soil and avalanche analysis of the site, and do a survey to determine just how much excavation has occurred. All three studies are expected to be completed by Jan. 16.

The studies should elaborate on the potential dangers associated with the site and give the city better direction in dealing with potential problems.

Additionally, at the city council’s direction, city staff are working on city-wide guidelines that will help mitigate effects of construction projects on the city’s neighborhoods, including mitigating truck traffic, storing excavated materials and storing construction materials.

Such guidelines would have been helpful in this case, Moniz said.

"This is a learning process for us," Moniz said. "There are a lot of things we could have done."

He said that under ideal circumstances the project’s developers would have waited until spring to break ground, lessening potential avalanche and soil stability hazards.

"I don’t think we’ll be approving projects of this nature in the fall again," P&Z chairman Peter Ripsom said at Monday’s meeting.

Commission members Monday made clear their distress concerning the seemingly excessive excavation after a throng of Sage Road residents voiced complaints.

"We’re all distressed by the current situation. We think they’ve done more than they ever applied for," Ripsom said. "These people are doing a disservice to the whole construction industry as far as I’m concerned."

Ketchum planning administrator Lisa Horowitz said the city doesn’t have the authority to issue a stop-work order on the project. Zoning infractions require taking the builder to court.

She said, however, that the city’s attorney would have to issue the final opinion on a stop-work order, and the attorney is on vacation for the week.

Moniz said stopping the work at this point would probably be futile anyway.

"The real solution is going to be to get that wall built."



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