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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of September 3 - 9, 2003

Opinion Columns

The Pam Slam rebuttal


Guest opinion by RANDY HALL
Randy Hall is president of the Ketchum City Council.


The Pam Slam, thatís what I call being tagged as the mastermind behind the downfall of Ketchum (in last weekís Express editorial by Publisher Pam Morris). Fortunately I'm not that clever. Sure Brian Barsotti is a good guy, heís Baird Gourlayís landlord, heís Maurice Charlatís attorney and he used to be my attorney and for all I know Chris might have hemmed a few pairs of pants for him. Although Brian is a nice guy, he also happens to be the developer pitching the largest project in the history of the downtown core. This project is not one to take lightly, the 30 million dollar, 84,650 square foot hotel once built can not be changed. Do you remember your first impression of the First Bank of Idaho building?

My job as a City Councilman is to focus on what is in the best interest for the City of Ketchum, keeping in mind that a developerís focus is on profit. I have been criticized because there has been too much process and in typical Ketchum fashion, I have also been criticized for not enough process. If wanting to have all the facts in front of me before I vote makes me an obstructionist, then Iím guilty. But whose job is it, if not the City Councilís, to make sure that the entire comprehensive plan is the basis of all our planning decisions. We can not merely select parts that will certainly benefit the developer but might or might not benefit the community.

My experience has taught me that Ketchum is a great place and people come here because we are not Aspen, Vail or Park City. Elkhorn and the Alpenrose are examples of projects developed with the "if you build it they will come" mentality that we need to be cautious of. The Planned Unit Development (PUD) process is by its very nature a subjective one, it allows developers latitude and benefits not normally achieved under regular planning and zoning guidelines, i.e. minimum lot size, density, and height. The waivers are to be weighed with the proposed benefits of the development. In short, the developer pays for the negative impacts so the Ketchum taxpayers donít or provides benefits that the City needs. A good example is Thunder Spring. Ketchum received well over a million dollars in development mitigation, from infrastructure improvements to street improvements to recreation and most importantly deed restricted housing. Another example is The Fields at Warm Springs in which we traded increased density for 14 deed-restricted community housing units. The fact is every PUD the City has approved has had a housing component to it.

The Bald Mountain Hotel is not insulated from the same mitigation criteria that the City has applied to other PUDs. It is my opinion that if a developer, through the PUD process, wants additional development rights from the City, they must first demonstrate that the project is viable and therefore able to deliver the mitigation agreed upon. Then the City has to determine that it is creating value for the City, not just for the developer. If you take away the housing component of this application then where is the measurable benefit? Keep in mind that we donít get option tax on empty rooms.

I would like to clarify some facts. The Express editorial states that the request for housing was thrown in at the last minute. It was the developer who initially proposed the five units of housing, not the Council. The redesigned hotel has the same square footage, 80 rooms instead of 81, the same amount of employees, and the same parking and traffic concerns. Therefore the impacts to the community will be the same and the mitigation should not be any less than what the developer recognized and proposed himself.

On the issue of traffic, the Express editorial points out that two studies show that there is no significant impact. There have in fact been three consultant opinions that voice concerns over the location of the curb cuts for the motor court and the parking structure. Their suggested mitigation is adjusting the signal settings, removing parking in front of the bank on first street, painting and signing the street to prevent people from blocking the driveway, and during peak traffic or special events having a hotel employee direct traffic. Earth Tech (the Cityís consultant) raises a very important question, is the dedication of public resources to serve one development in Ketchumís best interest? Changing the signal timing will affect everyone who drives the highway, forever. Losing parking spaces has never been tolerated by the public or business community. I believe these impacts are significant.

The guest opinion in the Wood River Journal gives me pause. At the risk of Ms. Pam Ritzau writing letters to the editor for the rest of my life and beyond, I will agree with her that the City should have had a better understanding of what the consequences might be for the special provisions given to hotels in the community core. With that said, I have been working as a member of the Cityís Hotel Subcommittee to revise the provisions. Given this application and the proposed Sun Valley Company Master Plan for River Run, which includes a 200 room hotel and several hundred condominiums, it may turn out that the special provisions granted to increase the number of hotel rooms may no longer have community support.

It is my hope that at the end of the day we end up with a project that we can all be proud of. I can say this, however, if you have to be slammed it is better to be so in the paper than the post office.

 

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