Serving Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey, Bellevue and Carey
June 4, 2023
The Greenhow & Rumsey Store building on Main Street in Ketchum, built in the late 1800s, is now the headquarters of the Sun Valley Culinary Institute. It has been included on a list of structures identified for their historical value.
Preserving Ketchum’s historic buildings is an uphill battle, according to Planning and Building Department Director Morgan Landers. Not too long ago, she said, not much mind was being paid to such efforts at all.
“The commitment and attention to [Ketchum’s Historical Preservation Commission] has ebbed and flowed over the years,” she told the HPC board during a meeting this week. “You are stepping back into this space, and kind of bringing historic preservation back into the forefront.”
These efforts are highlighted by a potential implementation of a local grant program through the Idaho State Historical Society, roughly planned for 2025. The program sees the Historical Society allocate so-called “community enhancement” grants to organizations or municipalities to use for maintenance, façade changes, educational programming, public access, enhancements, and tourism of historic properties. In 2022, the Historical Society gave 11 organizations $25,000 each. The community enhancement grant program began in 2008 and has distributed over $440,000 since.
Landers said that such grants could spur meaningful work on properties like the Sun Valley Culinary building and the Hemingway House. Before applying for grants, the city will create a more comprehensive understanding of its historic structures by working with property owners.
“When you have strong historic preservation programs, you get heritage tourism: people travel for those types of experiences,” she said. “So as we continue to develop the exposure of the program and the different buildings that we’re trying to preserve we create groundswell of support.”
Commission Chairman Spencer Cordovano said nothing is more important to the city’s character than properly preserving its past.
“Nobody is coming to Wagon Days to see the new residential downtown penthouses,” he said.
Commissioner Wendolyn Holland agreed.
“[Preservation] may not be of monetary value to the city’s coffers, but the returns to the community come when so much of the core of our community identity is based on having historic buildings,” she said.
A good portion of the city’s efforts will go to explaining the importance of preservation to the public and stakeholders.
Before applying for any grants, the city has to get through its comprehensive plan and land use regulations rewrites. The 2014 Comprehensive Plan, which describes the city’s goals and general direction, has been tabbed as outdated, especially in light of the changes to the community since the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first year of the pandemic, the population of Ketchum grew 25%, compared to a historic annual growth rate of 1%.
The rewrite will begin at the end of this summer, and go through the new year. The comprehensive plan rewrite will also help establish the budget for preservation efforts, Landers said.
Cordovano said he is skeptical that the city’s general fund balance is sufficient to meet the needs.
“It might be enough to make some changes, but I don’t remember it having the carrying capacity to make a lot of change when you consider the price of property in Ketchum,” he said.
Ketchum had a Request For Proposal, or RFP, out for a consulting firm that they hope can “lead an audit and focused update” to the plan, according to the city. This RFP closed at noon today, May 5.
Following the comprehensive plan rewrite, the city will start to draft strategies for framing the importance of the Historic Preservation Commission to the public. Ketchum will also roll out a historic preservation handbook this summer, which will give property owners answers to most questions they have about the program. The handbook will be drafted with input from property owners, according to the city.
“The [current] handbook as it is is pretty weak, so they needed to do a deep dive to create new incentives,” Landers said.
In addition to the community enhancement grant, there are a few other strategies that the city could implement relatively easily, Landers said.
The city could assist in purchase of façade easements, which limit the structural and aesthetic changes that can be made to a building’s exterior. Ketchum is also considering the feasibility of using city funds to purchase historic properties with the goal of preservation. Finally, the city could waive application fees, building permit fees and other charges for historic structures, making it easier for owners to preserve them.
There are also a number of changes that the city could implement but that would require changes to the city’s zoning ordinances.
Historic buildings could become exempt from improving adjacent right-of-ways. New buildings are required to improve these zones, which can account for a significant portion of construction costs.
Ketchum could also change code to allow for conditional use permits to be used for structures that don’t conform to certain zones. For example, a historic single-family residence in an “otherwise commercial or primarily commercial” zone, according to the city’s document on the plans.
The city is also considering adding density bonuses in exchange for preservation. These bonuses could apply to height, floor area, setbacks and number of dwelling units in a structure.
A final tool would be to enable the transfer of density rights, which is complex. Essentially, the city would allow developers “to build more than what the baseline dimensional standards are, if [they] commit to preserving a portion or most of the building,” Landers said.
Those density rights could also be sold. If a project doesn’t use the maximum density, the developers could sell the square footage to someone else. These programs are complex, partly because the city has to be mapped in such a way that certain zones have a net loss of space and certain zones have a net gain of space.
Cordovano said it will be hard to find a place for the density bonuses to go.
“That’s always the kicker with transfer of density rights,” Landers replied. “Can you create a credit pool of development rights?”
That pool has to be managed. Landers said that Aspen, Colorado, had a credit market like that for a time, but it’s not cost effective because the city has to foot the bill.
There are already a number of benefits already in place in Ketchum, as detailed by a chart that compared the city’s policies to other Western resort towns and cities that are known to have a healthy culture of historic preservation.
“We have quite a few incentives, and I don’t think people really knew that,” Landers said.
Ketchum property owners looking to preserve historic buildings have received local grants, relief from some building and parking standards, and flexible setbacks, among other things. These policies came about as part of the Interim ordinance 1234 adopted last fall.
Jackson, Wyoming, a ski town located just four hours east of Ketchum, has public dedication and improvement waivers in place, as well as density bonuses and transfer of density rights. Scottsdale, Arizona, is one of the aforementioned cities with active historic preservation policies. These include community enhancement grants and purchase of façade easements.
Two commissioners besides Cordovano attended in person—Jakub Galczynski and Tom Curl—while Rick Reynolds was absent and Holland tuned in via video call. Galczynski and Curl stayed quiet for the most part, while Cordovano directed most of the conversation.
He asked Landers about the proposed density bonus.
“Say you sold a density bonus to a project already at max height and max density, what happens then?” he asked.
Landers said that is an example of a conversation that would have to happen at the formulation of the density bonus program. Layering programs tend to get convoluted, she said. Ultimately, it comes down to tradeoffs.
“Is [allowing] a fourth floor on one building worth doing so that another historic structure can stay as it is?” she asked.
That is the question that the city will navigate in the coming months. The commission, on Tuesday, made their stance clear.
“Historic preservation needs to be on the same [level of importance] as capital improvement projects,” Holland said. ￼
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This is a crock.. The City will hire yet another consultant to apply for a state grant in two years. Those grants are around $25k. Looks like we will spend a lot more on consultants and staff time just to apply for that. This is typical of Ketchum. The HPC has become a way for P&Z and the Planning Department to look like they care about Preservation while doing zero Preservation. Judge them by what they do, not by what they say. In over two years of this new effort, what has been achieved? And while tourists don’t come to see penthouse apartments, are they coming to see a 4 story low income housing project next the ore wagon museum? Will they see the 6 story Marriott at the entrance to town and marvel at the “small western town feel” of Ketchum that is the primary goal of the existing Comp Plan? And the “rewrite” of the plan this summer? That’s what it will be. Not a full inclusive and transparent Comp Plan process, but a rewrite by this administration without the input of the full community. It will be a rush job to look inclusive while pushing their own agenda. Which, by their results so far, seem to be to turn Ketchum into Aspen.
PB. You’re spot on.
Welcome to the discussion.