When the facts aren’t with you in an argument, you call people names. That’s what is happening with the debate on Bluebird. The mayor in his Feb. 3 guest opinion (“Let’s provide a warm Ketchum welcome to affordable housing”) suggested that those who oppose Bluebird are “prejudiced.” Let’s debate Bluebird on the facts, not with ad hominem attacks.
Bluebird is yet another development that, in my opinion, costs Ketchum far more than it brings. It is emblematic of a vision for Ketchum that will, in my opinion, bring us closer to what has happened in Vail. It will be another project that puts the “city” in the city of Ketchum.
What is wrong with Bluebird? Where do I start? It is not community housing integrated into the community. It is community housing that concentrates and segregates our low-income neighbors into small apartments, many with no parking or tandem parking, and some with no windows in the bedrooms. Layer on the $5 million in free taxpayer-owned land, plus about $2 million in direct subsidies that the city is handing over to a for-profit development. Asking Ketchum taxpayers to subsidize housing for employers that don’t pay a living wage seems to me inconsistent with the Ketchum ethos. And a bad use of community resources that could go to much better community housing. Then there is the concentration of dozens of cars that will be parked on already crowded streets. This is all unnecessary to achieve the goals of community housing.
Contrary to how Bluebird has been presented by the mayor and GMD Development as the only alternative for community housing, there are better alternatives. We know this because we already have a great deal of community housing in Ketchum, of which the community doesn’t seem to be aware. And more is in the process of being built—at no expense to the taxpayer and with few or no zoning waivers. That is what sounds like “community” housing to me.
Before we build a massive project like Bluebird that will forever change the nature of our downtown core, we should do the work to determine what kind of community housing we as a community want. For whom will we be providing this housing? For our teachers and firefighters and health care workers, or for low-paid hotel workers from outside our valley at a six-story hotel we don’t need? How many units do we need? Is it for single people? Couples? Families? Where should we put it? Right now, we have no idea— because we haven’t collected the data or done the analysis. And we haven’t had real community dialogue.
We should not incentivize developers to avoid building parking, and provide them height benefits inconsistent with the small-town scale of our existing buildings. The mayor says we do this because the community wanted it this way. I don’t believe that is true; and I believe we can fix this bad zoning, in a communitywide inclusive manner, where we publicly air the costs and benefits of different approaches.
Every citizen should read the town’s comprehensive plan. While it needs the updating that has not been done by our town leaders in the past four years, it clearly does not call for taxpayer-funded, segregated public housing that subsidizes a rate of return to a for-profit, out-of-state developer in one of the most massive buildings ever to be built in Ketchum. AKA—Bluebird.
Really this debate is about more than Bluebird. This is about what kind of town Ketchum is going to be. Will it stay a “real town?” Or will it become the “city” of Ketchum?
We can have excellent community housing for teachers and health-care workers that gives them a place to park and a window to look out of. We can integrate community housing throughout our town, and not concentrate it in massively dense apartment blocks largely paid for with taxpayer funds.
The choice isn’t Bluebird or no community housing. The choice is Bluebird or the soul of Ketchum.
Perry Boyle lives in Ketchum. He is chairman of The BOMA Project, a poverty-graduation program for women in East Africa.