In Ketchum, where the average home value is over $700,000, dozens of residents in the light-industrial district have eschewed rising living and commuting costs by adding sleeping and cooking quarters to their workspaces.
The work-live trend started well before the city’s reimagining of the district this year, which granted the area a secondary purpose of housing multi-family dwellings.
But some properties in the L.I. have presented unique challenges for city administrators, namely the evasion of residential and building regulations.
“I don’t want to reward someone who has already taken advantage of the code,” Planning and Zoning Commissioner Jennifer Cosgrove said to a light-industrial property owner at the most recent P&Z meeting on Oct. 14.
Though Cosgrove voted against granting the owner a conditional-use permit, a majority vote gave the individual the right to work and sleep in the same unit under specified conditions.
Director of Planning and Building John Gaeddert said he was happy to see two CUPs granted on that day, which indicated that more L.I. properties were coming up to city code.
“It felt good to see that forward movement,” he said.
Gaeddert added that in the months since nearly 30 cease-and-desist letters were mailed to L.I. district property owners, a majority of recipients have been willing to work with city staff. Almost two-thirds have been in communication with Planning and Building officials, he said, and nine properties have since become city-compliant.
He’s also seen several new applicants enter the P&Z pipeline.
“I’m pleased that people have been responding and working with us as well as they have,” he said. “I’m sure it wasn’t much fun on their side of the equation, but they will no longer have to wonder about [legality] and we know their units are safe.”
Between the two batches of cease-and-desist letters sent out by Nampa-based firm White Peterson, 15 were available for public review.
“You and any occupants of the property are commanded to cease and desist all use of the property for residential use,” the letters read.
Among the most commonly cited violations were missing fire separations between commercial and living spaces and no smoke detectors or means of egress.
One individual who said he was dealing with both violations told the Express that adding a fire separation to his space, in the form of either drywall or a banister, would cost upwards of $2,000.
“I don’t feel like I’ve been getting any love,” said the man, who requested that his name not be published. “This [cease-and-desist] order is telling me I have to go hire an attorney to basically teach the city what their job is, and they want over $1,100 up front for a CUP. But the building inspector won’t even meet with me. It’s felt very unwelcoming,” he said.
“My question to the city is, how many people have burned to death in their own warehouses in the last 50 years? I think they’re trying to justify making us leave. And I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but I do worry about becoming homeless.”
Gaeddert said that while some property owners have simply removed unlawful lofts or sleeping areas in response to the letters, others have fully vacated after deciding it was too much of a hassle to come into compliance.
But he affirmed that no resident has become homeless as a result of the orders.
“To the best of my knowledge, none of the actions we’ve taken have had that negative impact,” he said.
On the contrary, Gaeddert said he’s been reminding cease-and-desist recipients of a major incentive to correct their code violations: an in-crease in property value.
P&Z commissioners shared this sentiment on Oct. 14, but disagreed whether or not conditional-use permits should be transferable to the next owner.
Commissioner Tim Carter acknowledged that requiring new owners to pay and apply for a conditional-use permit could be a valuable checkpoint to help enforce building safety, but said he was willing to rely on yearly fire inspections for that.
He also questioned the purpose of needing to reapply.
“If our intent is to make housing easier to access, why should we add another restriction?” he asked.
Cosgrove said it shouldn’t be about making housing easier to access.
“It’s about making our zoning laws function the way they’re supposed to,” she said. “A buyer using the property in the exact same way as the seller is kind of unrealistic, so keeping the CUP process in place will ensure our code is being used in the right way and not abused.”
Commissioner Kurt Eggers agreed with Cosgrove that a CUP shouldn’t be transferable.
“When I hear the term ‘conditional-use permit,’ I think that’s synonymous with a case-by-case basis,” he said. “I respect that $1,000 is a lot of money, but what we’re talking about here is a several-hundred-thousand-dollar transfer of property.”
Ketchum resident Tom Lampl said although the city has a right to inspect properties to ensure building safety, charging a fee over $1,000 is unfair.
“What I object to is the flippantness of ‘It’s only a thousand dollars,’” he told the board. “That’s a lot of money. This is not supposed to be a profit center—your job is just to review, to make sure everything’s OK.”