With the mayor casting two tie-breaking votes, the Ketchum City Council on Monday adopted an emergency ordinance that establishes a 90-day moratorium on the demolition of buildings in the downtown “Community Core” area that are deemed to be historically or culturally significant.
The votes came after a lengthy discussion about changes to the city’s character and what options city officials have to protect historic structures. The ordinance states that an “imminent threat to historical and culturally significant structures in the Community Core” necessitates the imposition of a temporary moratorium on the demolition of any of a long list of buildings identified in city surveys done in 2005 and 2006.
A city staff report states that “development inquiries have occurred on multiple properties” on the list and that other properties on the list “have recently sold and owners may not be aware of the significance of the existing structure.”
Mayor Neil Bradshaw told City Council members that the emergency ordinance was being put forth as a “pause” to give city officials and residents an opportunity to review which buildings are most valued by the community and to discuss whether any protective measures should be taken.
“I know that many in our community are concerned about the changing face of our town,” Bradshaw said.
In the two votes, City Council members Courtney Hamilton and Jim Slanetz favored waiving the first two readings of the ordinance and adopting it immediately. Council members Amanda Breen and Michael David voted against both motions. In instances of tie votes among the council, the mayor can cast a deciding vote.
“This is going to be an important community conversation,” Bradshaw said after the decision was made.
The ordinance establishes that applications for demolition permits filed before Oct. 15 will not be affected. In a draft ordinance issued to the City Council, city officials proposed a 182-day demolition moratorium but the length was reduced to 90 days in an amendment by the council.
In a public hearing, property owner Charlie Holt strongly opposed the adoption of the emergency ordinance. He told council members that the demolition moratorium would make a building he owns—which he believes has no historical value—difficult to sell, and that the city should let existing zoning govern what property owners can do. He said he believes the ordinance could prompt legal actions against the city.
“I don’t see any emergency,” he said.
Property owner Jeff Lubeck said he also opposes the ordinance and suggested that its consequences could be deemed a “taking.”
“I’d like to have the opportunity to do what I planned,” he said.
Bradshaw said the city received emails from the public that were both in favor of and against the proposed ordinance.
State law allows for the implementation of an emergency ordinance if a jurisdiction determines it must act against “imminent peril” to public health, safety or welfare. The city’s attorney, Matt Johnson, said the ordinance is legally defensible.
Planning and Building Director Suzanne Frick explained that there are no inherent protections for historic structures. As for the demolition process, she said, the city has no true authority there, either. A property owner files an application, a 60-day notice period is observed, and then a demolition permit is issued, she said.
Councilwoman Amanda Breen—who served on the Historic Preservation Commission in 2005 when it issued a lengthy report on historic structures—said she supports efforts to preserve historic structures but does not support an emergency ordinance. Without the ordinance, she said, the city could still commence an initiative to determine what actions it can or should pursue.
“There’s worthwhile conversations to be had here,” she said.
Councilwoman Courtney Hamilton said she does see an emergency in the loss of historic structures. Noting that there is a major boom in the real estate market, she said she does not want to live in a community that no longer has elements of architectural history.
“I think if we don’t enact some way to save the remnants of our history, we just become a series of blocks with a bunch of modern buildings in them that could be at the base of any ski mountain,” she said.
Hamilton said she would prefer to be proactive than reactive but believes action should be taken.
In saying she would like to have three public readings of the ordinance, she opened the door to a conversation about whether city leaders should instead approve an interim ordinance—which can be for a longer time period and would have three readings.
Councilman Jim Slanetz, noting that he has lived in Ketchum for 32 years, said he has seen a lot of old buildings and “funky places” disappear. He said he was concerned that an emergency order would, in fact, create an emergency, in which property owners might be encouraged to seek demolition permits. However, he said he would support a 90-day moratorium.
“I’m afraid we lose some of the best ones if we don’t do it,” he said.
Councilman Michael David expressed concern that some property owners would lose the ability to move ahead with their plans.
With the ordinance in place, Bradshaw said, the city would commence a review of older properties in the Community Core and would initiate a public process to determine what, if anything, the city might do to protect historic structures.