If adopted, an amendment to Ketchum’s subdivision ordinance will ensure that the city can carry out partial vacations of alleys—though on a strict, case-by-case basis, according to city officials.

Under current Ketchum code, dead-end alleys are prohibited in new subdivisions. Planning Director John Gaeddert said city officials were concerned that the prohibition could be interpreted to apply to city actions to vacate part of an existing alley. If the new amendment passes at its third City Hall reading next week—which will take place at the Limelight Hotel on Monday, Oct. 7—dead-end alleys would be permitted within the downtown core.

For vacation to happen under the revised ordinance, the City Council would need to verify that the alley is not needed for transportation purposes and that vacating it would be in line with public interest and public safety needs.

For example, steep alleys on Knob Hill could be vacated for safety reasons, Gaeddert said, given the potential for cars to backslide and cause injury. Other existing alleys could be vacated to allow for city-improvement projects and improved walkability. He gave the example of Lucy Loken Park, which used to be a street that was vacated to become a city park enjoyed by the public.

“Alleys are a neat part of our city fabric, there’s no doubt about that, and we would love to have some new planning initiatives generate more energy and creativity within our alleyways,” Gaeddert said.

He added that public misconception has led some Ketchum residents to fear that their neighbors will essentially receive free land and take away their own alleyway access.

“I’ve heard from some people that this is a public-land giveaway. That’s not the case. It’s a very specific Idaho code process, and the findings that need to be made are very high-threshold,” Gaeddert said. “What the ordinance amendment is really trying to get at is to keep the ability to vacate alleys or parts of alleys within the toolkit of our elected officials.”

In letters to the city, several residents questioned the timing of the new ordinance. Some wrote that they suspected the change was proposed to cater to Jack Bariteau’s First Street project, which has apparently involved alleyway-vacation requests.

“It is clear … that this relates to the alley Jack Bariteau wants for primary use for his needs … and apparent that this is being done to help Bariteau accomplish parking in his project,” Ketchum resident Gwen Raney wrote on Sept. 11.

Heather Newhouse, of Ketchum, wrote on Sept. 16 that “Bariteau … is asking for the alley behind the properties to be vacated in his favor. I believe the city should not even be discussing any projects with Mr. Bariteau until he remedies the large hole in the ground that welcomes all to Ketchum.”

But Gaeddert asserted the amendment has nothing to do with Bariteau.

“It just so happens that when Bariteau’s project came along, we were in the middle of the ordinance reworking process,” he said.

Gaeddert also noted that the current prohibition of dead-end alleyways has been interpreted rather oddly in the past, and it was past time the code was updated.

“Ever since I’ve been city planning director, our entire subdivision ordinance has needed an overhaul, and has been on my radar screen,” he said.

If the ordinance passes on Oct. 7 and vacations are granted to specific landowners, Gaeddert said there would be a strict maintenance agreements that the owners would need to enter into to ensure all alley maintenance needs—such as continuous pedestrian access and snowmelt—are taken care of.

At the last City Council meeting, Mayor Neil Bradshaw re-minded the audience that this ordinance change wouldn’t grant anyone special rights, and vacation would only happen after consideration of owners with adjacent property.

“It’s not up to the homeowners if the alleyways are vacated or not,” he said. “It can be requested, but vacations can only be granted if it’s in the public interest to do so. Alleys are city-owned property, and will remain public unless there’s a very good reason to change that.”

Gaeddert said there is an upside to the increased public attention on the ordinance.

“There are big opportunities to make use of our alleys in ways that we haven’t even thought about,” he said.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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