Ketchum will get its long-awaited—and much debated—fire station in the coming months after the city council green-lit the project during a special meeting Friday afternoon.
The council unanimously agreed to pay Core Headwaters LLC up to a maximum $9.3 million to build the bond-funded fire station, which will stand on Saddle Road, north of the YMCA building.
The vote was swift following minimal comments from council members regarding the five-page traffic study memo that was completed by LA-based firm AECOM for $10,600 to assess the impacts that the proposed fire station might have on vehicle and pedestrian traffic in the area.
The traffic study, described as “underwhelming” by Councilwoman Courtney Hamilton, consisted of three pages of information and two pages of pictures, with two mitigation recommendations made. The first was for the fire station to create a policy requiring emergency vehicles to head northbound on Saddle Road and utilize state Highway 75 when responding to calls, rather than traveling east on Warm Springs Road. The second was to “maintain a strict policy against volunteers responding to the fire station in an unsafe manner.”
The study was based on data provided by the city for traffic counts collected in May 2018, “and show a significant number of trips on Warm Springs Road (nearly 1,000 vehicles per hour during peak periods).” Counts for Saddle Road were not provided, but the memo concludes that “both of these streets would appear to be important routes to the transportation network for this part of Ketchum.”
The city did not provide data on pedestrians crossing the area surrounding the proposed fire station, which “includes several pedestrian generators including YMCA, Rotary Park, the Guy Coles Skate Park, Big Wood School, Ernest Hemingway School and multiple trails.”
The traffic study memo goes on to state that interactions between fire trucks and non-motorized transportation like cyclists and pedestrians “may be less at the new location” than the current location on Fifth Street between Alpine Lane and East Avenue.
But the memo also says that “additional study is warranted to solidify this assumption.”
Friday’s special council meeting was originally scheduled to take place earlier in the week, on June 23, but according to Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw, the meeting was pushed by three days “to continue to refine the project and its costs.” According to Bradshaw, the three-day pushback reduced project costs and did not delay the project’s deadline. During the meeting, he did not explain how the project costs were reduced over the three days.
Regardless of the cost of the project, the traffic study failed to answer lingering questions that some councilmembers and local residents have been asking from the beginning, including how the fire station and emergency response vehicles might create a risk for pedestrians and cyclists in the area.
“There are a few gaps or questions that weren’t answered for me,” Councilman Jim Slanetz said during Friday’s special meeting.
According to Ketchum Fire Chief Bill McLaughlin, in the projected models done when considering the location for the new fire station, only a handful of calls would require first responders to take Warm Springs Road rather than turn right on Saddle Road and head to calls via state Highway 75. In addition, McLaughlin said the modern design of the building will allow for better sightlines when exiting the fire station, so pedestrians and cyclists will not be in danger like they might be in the fire station’s current home.
Even so, “all it takes is one crash,” councilmember Michael David said, noting that the traffic study based its analysis assumption on the fact that “there are no underlying issues at the intersection of Warm Springs Road and Saddle Road or along Warm Springs Road.” David did not agree with that, mentioning instead a “horrible” danger for pedestrians and cyclists to get hit when crossing the intersection.
David suggested the city look for additional mitigation measures beyond what the study suggested, and also recommended that the city invite “bike and pedestrian advocates,” to give their recommendations on how to improve the intersection.
Councilwoman Hamilton echoed this sentiment. Although the building plan “looks good,” she said the traffic study made worrying assumptions and does not reflect the current situation at the intersection, “which is part of the problem.”
“There are a lot of concerns over the safety of that intersection,” Hamilton said.
Although citizens were not welcomed into council chambers to give public comment on Friday, eight members of the public sent in public comment to the city, according to the city’s website, where all written public comments are accumulated. Of those, only one was in favor of the project.
In passing the plan, the Ketchum council chose not to address three recommendations proposed by the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission, which included the approval of a parking plan for the YMCA.
The city and the Y reached a parking deal on Nov. 4, 2019, one day prior to the election that passed the fire station bond. As of Friday, the Y had not received a plan from the city detailing where 40 additional parking places discussed in the agreement will be.
“We hope such a plan will prevent the City from incurring unnecessary expenses or having to replace newly constructed landscaping,” Wood River Community YMCA CEO Jason Shearer said in his public comment email to the city on Friday.
According to Bradshaw, site preparation will begin on Monday and groundbreaking is scheduled for some time in July, with the project completion date scheduled for September 2021.