Ketchum’s Planning and Zoning Commission voiced its approval to city staff on Tuesday to simplify the pre-application process for building development in a move meant to decrease redundancy and improve communication between developers and city hall.
Planning and Building Department Director Morgan Landers said that the goal is for the process to be more collaborative from the beginning. The revised requirements for pre-application design review would include a project narrative, conceptual site plan with landscaping details, elevations and floor plans, photos of the materials that might be used and a limited 3-D rendering that depicts the building within the context of its surroundings. For projects in the mountain overlay district, a conceptual grading and drainage plan is required, too.
“What we want to get away from is having multiple pre-application meetings, because then you start to get the presumption of approval,” Landers said. “I had a conversation with the city attorney about that. Whether it’s pre-application or final design review, you don’t want to be in more than two discussions because if there is something that substantive that you can’t get over, then that probably warrants a denial.”
Landers said that the current structure can cause unneeded friction.
“Applicants are less willing to make changes because they have already invested so much and wedded themselves to a design that they spent a lot of time creating,” she said of how the extensive pre-application process affects final design review. “That makes it frustrating for the Planning Commission and creates some tension between staff and the applicants right out of the gate.”
The pre-application stage “is a chance to look at the mass and bulk and the basis of what [developers] are bringing and say ‘yes, it fits,’ ‘no, it doesn’t fit,’ or ‘no, you’re crazy, that will never work,’” Commissioner Neil Morrow said. “They bring it to us, and we round the edges off, and then we go into the design review where we address [more specifics].”
It’s uncommon for pre-application review hearings to number more than one or two, although commissioners mentioned a few notable cases in which a series of hearings were required, including the project on what’s commonly called “Hot Dog Hill” and the soon-to-be-built PEG Marriott Hotel at the entrance of town.
The commission endorsed Ketchum city staff’s recommendations to change what is required for the pre-application phase. Much of Tuesday’ discussion centered on the level of detail the P&Z should require—a common sticking point among applicants.
“We get the pushback, though, of it being a lot of money and taking a lot of time,” Landers said.
“The 3-D models and perspectives could be hand sketched,” Commissioner Brenda Moczygemba added. “Some of the criticism I have heard is ‘We don’t do them in house, so that’s another consultant we have to pay.’ But explaining that it doesn’t have to be a fully rendered photo-realistic image [would help].”
Many of these proposed changes came out of the city’s technical advisory group, which includes a host of local developers and architects who can offer perspective to the city on these issues. According to Landers, architects argued for the inclusion of floor plans in the pre-application process, as they inform how the outside is designed.
“The technical advisory group [has] clearly been a very candid and helpful exchange,” Commissioner Susan Passovoy said.
The technical advisory group, which meets next in June, is still split on the larger conversation of what development in downtown Ketchum should look like. Some members want to encourage development of a mixed nature, with a number of small buildings to match the three story condominiums with ground level retail units. Other members expressed the belief that any developer should be allowed to build the maximum of what is allowed on a parcel.
“That’s what everyone likes about town—there is an eclectic mix of big and small buildings,” Commissioner Tim Carter said.
Landers put things into the language of the builders.
“Brenda [Moczygemba] and Tim [Carter] are very familiar with this process, because they live and breathe it every day, but in the construction and design world there are stages,” she said. “There is pre-design, schematic design, design development, and then construction. After that, you get your certificate of occupancy.”
A certificate of occupancy signifies that a building is ready for use. Landers said that the schematic design stage is when pre-application design review happens. There is “an acknowledgement that changes happen at this stage,” she said, while design development is synonymous with final design review. Final design review includes aesthetic choices like colors, as well as organization of mechanical equipment and civil engineering work.
Carter had a suggestion that he thought might help Ketchum’s efforts to log its buildings. He asked if the city should investigate creating a 3-D model of its entire downtown so that developers don’t have to render anything more than their project.
“They can just get access to that model and plug their building in, and that would also give us an assurance that the renderings [of the buildings] around are correct,” Carter said.
Landers said that the city built this system in 2021 but is on a platform that some developers and architects don’t use anymore. City staff members are trying to “figure out” if the platform is still in use enough to merit its use, according to Landers.
For now, the city will go back and take the feedback to fine tune its application checklists.
“The conversation about pre-application versus final design review has been a cyclical conversation since the first week I joined the city of Ketchum,” Landers said with a laugh. “I think it’s evolved over time. In the past, it had one form and function, and today it looks very different from how we did it 10 years ago.”
Morrow said that for as long as he has been on the commission—since 2017—he has held the same view of the pre-application process.
“I always saw pre-application as a chance to tell applicants that [we] don’t want something, and then they go back and work with staff to find [a solution],” he said. “So, that’s always been my bird’s eye view.” he said.
With support from Morrow, Passovoy contributed one more addendum.
“We should make clear in large, bold, 20-point-font that there are no approvals being given” during the pre-application process, she said. “It’s just discussion.” ￼
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The City of Ketchum has had all the character and charm sucked out of it. This group of city planners may as well just put a strip mall in the field south of Ketchum. It's embarrassing what they have done to this town.
A builder read this article and called me. Says it takes up to a full year longer and a million dollars more to build in Ketchum than in Sun Valley. All due to planning department. The system broke when the current Mayor took over.
Return his call & ask him to document his claims, then question his analogy to SV (not that get approval out here isnt a cakewalk fir developers - beginning w SVEA's Architectural Design Committee composed of paid architects selected by Chuck Williamson, who blackballed me from it.
Given that P&Z Chair Morrow has had a view for 6 years that hasn’t happened, one has to ask if the staff works for the P&Z or the P&Z just rubber stamps the staff reports. Anyone who follows this process understand that the staff view on zoning drives what gets done in Ketchum. Look at the staff reports for what was originally proposed for Hot Dog Hill vs the staff report for the old city hall site. Same staff writer, 100% different interpretation of the zoning code. No wonder developers are frustrated. As for the technical committee being split on what should be built in Ketchum, so far the City Council has almost always approved the maximum building size on a lot in the core. Indeed, they have gone even farther than that, and provided waivers to building size for one of their favorite projects, the new Marriott at the entrance to town. That 6-story building should have required about 3 acres of land—the Council gave it waivers so it could go up on a single acre. The Council is trying to maximize density in Ketchum—they have said so. One thing people don’t seem to understand is that, in the tourist zone, it is now permissible to build a 6 story hotel. It is also permissible to build up 4 stories from the sidewalk with no fourth story setback. Think of what will happen if the Tamarack owner sells. And now the Council plans to jam through a new Comp Plan this summer with only limited community input so that they can rewrite the zoning code for even more density in Ketchum.
“That’s what everyone likes about town—there is an eclectic mix of big and small buildings,” Commissioner Tim Carter said. No, Tim; not "everyone."
Tim has an excellent idea that I have proposed multiple times but gotten no traction on. Let’s create a 3D model of Ketchum that shows all the approved projects so that each new project can be shown in context. Seems like basic common sense. However, I think the Mayor is dead set against this, as then we would see how his plans for us are going to play out. Sharing critical information with the public is not the way this Administration plays. They hide what they think we won’t like until it is too late for anyone to be able to stop them.
D'accord. RE: Three-D model; along with The Tamarack, please include the base of River Run and deduct The Developers Greed Element presently ignored by local planning personnel for permitting.
Welcome to the discussion.