In the late afternoon light of his Ketchum office, Ed unfolded a cease-and-desist order on his desk.
“You and any occupants of the property are commanded to cease and desist all use of the property for residential purposes,” the letter read. “Failure to adhere to this … will result in legal action being taken against you.”
Ed—who requested that his real name not be published—is among almost two dozen property owners and tenants the city said it discovered living in light-industrial spaces without proper permitting.
“It was jaw-dropping to open the letter,” he said. “That you’re going to be evicted on Oct. 1 if you don’t comply? It would have been much less stressful if someone had come to talk to me first.”
If unable to obtain proper permitting, he could face a $1,000 fine and imprisonment. Getting through the Ketchum bureaucratic process is a multi-week ordeal, he said, and many affected by the orders will need to hire an architect and go before the Planning & Zoning Commission.
“The possibility [of eviction] is still out there,” he said.
As reported by city administration, at least 22 cease-and-desist letters have been issued this month to property owners in Ketchum’s light-industrial area, which is bounded by Saddle Road to the west and state Highway 75 to the east. Several other properties in the area are under investigation, Assistant City Administrator Lisa Enourato said.
Despite its lighter foot traffic, the light-industrial area has received growing scrutiny—and complaints—from local business owners and residents. The top concern is unsafe living setups, Enourato said.
“If a space is being used for sleeping and living, there are numerous fire and life-safety measures that must be in place to ensure the safety of the resident,” she said.
This month’s cease-and-desist notices, authored by Nampa-based law firm White Peterson, ordered all property owners to correct violations discovered in earlier fire inspections and either obtain conditional-use permits or immediately stop using their spaces for residential purposes. All recipients can appeal the accusations, the notices said.
One cease-and-desist order that Ed knew of was issued to someone living in a ground-floor unit, a setup prohibited by Ketchum code to preserve local manufacturing. Another he heard about resulted from an employee sleeping in a warehouse-type building once per week.
The mayor confirmed the hearsay on Monday.
“We’ve had a couple situations where someone doesn’t live there, but there’s a bed made up, and from time to time [property owners] let their friends crash there,” Mayor Neil Bradshaw said in an interview.
All cease-and-desist recipients will need to sign an agreement that they’ll no longer use their space residentially. Even if the pact is broken, the city won’t be held liable in case of a deadly fire, Bradshaw said.
He cited a disastrous Oakland, Calif., fire that broke out in the Ghost Ship Warehouse in 2016, killing 36 people. The space was only approved for light-industrial purposes, but had been illegally converted to an artist collective.
“The government knew about [the Ghost Ship] and turned a blind eye—and were ultimately held liable,” he said. “When we’re informed of someone living in a dangerous situation, we can’t just turn the other cheek.
“It’s a tough decision, to take a hard stance on this, but any other position on illegal living in the L.I. is frankly indefensible.”
As city investigations are usually driven by citizen complaints, Enourato said the bulk of the reports called in were from neighbors who “haven’t got on so well.”
Conflict between residents and workers in Ketchum’s light-industrial district is nothing new. Residents have for years complained about machinery noise, and in retaliation business owners have reported illegal living situations.
In this quid-pro-quo blame game, concrete evidence of illegality takes precedence—and with seven new cease-and-desists reported this week, a wildfire effect has begun to show. With the disquiet continuing, Bradshaw hopes his L.I. revitalization plan, solidified in an ordinance passed last month, will help ease the tension.
“We went through a whole industrial-zone reimagining process, kind of a SoHo-meets-Ketchum arrangement, to protect business owners while allowing greater building height for residences,” he said of the ordinance.
With work/live setups increasing across the country, from revitalized lofts in Seattle to multi-level artist studios in New York City, Ketchum is set to follow suit. But even for business owners and workers in favor of residential development in Ketchum’s L.I., the cease-and-desist orders came as a surprise.
“If the mayor is encouraging affordable housing, why is this an issue all of a sudden?” Decked employee Tim Inch asked.
Ed said he is still trying to figure out the correlation between his months-earlier fire inspection and the August timestamp on his cease-and-desist notice.
“I don’t get it,” he said.
But Bradshaw asserted that though there may be a gap between spring building inspections and actual enforcement, there is a method to the process.
“We needed to finalize exactly what the code was going to be for the L.I., so we had to first complete the reimagining for the district,” he said. “Once we had the code, we could apply it consistently across the board as opposed to, ‘Hey, this is what we think might happen.’”
The deadline on the cease-and-desist orders has also raised questions. With conditional-use permits requiring up to 60 days to go into effect, some people affected by the city crackdown say an Oct. 1 cutoff simply isn’t feasible.
“I get that people need to comply, but you’d think the city would be more accommodating with the work-live arrangements they’ve been pushing,” Ed said.
Enourato said enforcement is proceeding in phases.
“While Oct. 1 is the date in the letter, the goal is compliance, so long as a property owner is working towards compliance, the deadline can be extended,” she said.
She added that the new ordinance hasn’t changed the pre-existing law that bans ground-floor apartments in the LI, and the only change is increased enforcement.
For those affected, remediation plans are due to Planning Director John Gaeddert 21 days after the postmark date.