The Ketchum City Council gave approvals for the massive Marriott Hotel at the entrance to Ketchum, including waivers for height, density, setbacks and minimum lot size for a PUD. That was done despite clear opposition of the public during the hearing process. The council received hundreds of letters, of which the vast majority stated opposition to providing the proposed waivers. Thousands of petition signers showed their opposition to the waivers. And, in an online poll in the Mountain Express, 82 percent of those who responded were opposed to the use of waivers. In its final deliberations, the council suggested that the “silent majority” were actually in favor, and that the benefits of a hotel were more important than zoning laws, impacts to neighbors and public opinion.

Through a discovery process, it was shown that PEG, prior to submission, had asked the mayor and Planning Department for written support of the proposed project, including height and a floor-area ratio that exceed those permitted without waivers. The mayor and Planning Department agreed and provided those letters even prior to the public hearing process. Clearly, the mayor wasn’t interested in hearing from the public. This leaves many of us to question what is the purpose of public hearings? And, for that matter, what use are zoning laws if left to the council to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to abide by them? Does the council truly represent the people?

It was determined after the hearings were concluded that the city did not give proper notice to all affected property owners within the required area surrounding the project! By law, the city will now have to start the hearing process over. Based on how this project was approved, it seems reasonable to expect that the council will fast track this hearing process unless we can demonstrate that the public opposition is real.

The process by which the council was able to disregard the zoning laws was through the use of the PUD ordinance, which the council has determined allows waivers. Interestingly, the PUD ordinance requires a minimum lot size much larger than this proposed project. So, that is the first “waiver” that the council had to provide.

The project at its highest point is 72 feet high in a zone that otherwise allows 35 feet. The building is six stories at its highest point, while the maximum allowed is four stories. A rooftop bar at the highest part of the building has been determined to be a public amenity, which in part supports the use of waivers. Since when is a rooftop bar considered a public amenity? The project lies in the Tourist zone, which is a transition zone from commercial to residential uses. It has lower density and height requirements than the Community Core zone. The maximum height of this project is higher that the Limelight Hotel, which lies within the Community Core zone.

Clearly, the council is ignoring the intent of the code, if not the actual law. It is abusing its power. We have every right to be able to rely on our zoning laws and know what can be built on our properties and on neighboring properties. And, we have the right to protect the beauty and character of our great city for now and the future. Not to mention the traffic quagmire that we will endure at the entrance to town if this project goes forward as proposed! Ketchum should protect its small mining-town heritage, while responsibly allowing for growth.

We are not against hotels, PEG or the Marriott. But we are against the obvious abuse of the use of waivers. This is not the only site in Ketchum that a hotel can be built on, and a hotel on this site is perfectly acceptable if it follows the code. There are ways to accomplish this if the council is willing to be creative.

Kevin Livingston is a part-time resident of Ketchum.

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