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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of August 22 - 28, 2001


Better planning needed around hospital site

Give St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center high marks for its persistence in trying to get approval from Blaine County for a proposed office building south of Ketchum near the hospital.

The hospital will be back before the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission tomorrow in a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. to try again.

But this time, it’ll offer changes in the hope that objections will be dropped.

St. Luke’s not only now refers to the proposed medical office building as a physician office building, but has shrunk the original plans from 38,500 square feet to 31,179 square feet and lowered he height from 38.5 feet to 32.5 feet. Change is intended to show good-faith compromise.

It should be no surprise that these changes probably were engineered in closed-door "mediation" sessions in April between the hospital and Blaine County officials as well as Citizens for Smart Growth.

One might reasonably conclude that the county is tutoring St. Luke’s in secret on how to get approval in public.

No others, including the media, were allowed to eavesdrop on the meeting and thus to know whether quid-pro-quo agreements were made to grease the hospital’s request for the office building.

But whatever other objections might be raised about the building, a broader and more critical issue is being ignored by the county’s P&Z commissioners — a master plan for the area surrounding St. Luke’s.

If the P&Z treats other parcels of property in the area known as McHanville the same as the office building, then a hodge-podge of zoning approvals that could break down the long-standing prohibition of commercial development outside downtown areas is in our future.

Therein lies the potential for a crazy-quilt of structures and land uses that will guarantee more headaches for planners and diminish a quality of life the valley has worked so hard to protect.

One pressing issue that won’t disappear is zoning some of the area for affordable housing, an absolute essential for the Wood River Valley’s future economic vitality and the ability to retain a resident labor pool in the face of skyrocketing housing costs.

St. Luke’s itself has become a job-generator. Many of those hospital positions include technicians from other communities who must find housing on their salaries in an area where median home sale prices are well above $500,000.

The McHanville area, which is ideal for affordable housing units, is on the brink of changing character. Property owners there are bound to consider selling.

Now is the time for Blaine County to create a master plan for the area so the county may ensure that the gateway to the Ketchum/Sun Valley community is pleasing to the eye as well as functional and useful.

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.