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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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For the week of March 6 - 12, 2002


Alternatives proposed to Town Center

Second public meeting scheduled

Express Staff Writer

An outpouring of citizen involvement Monday night slowed momentum toward construction of Ketchum’s controversial Town Center project, but opened potential new directions for affordable housing.

The city council had voted in December to seek federal grant money to help fund an office and apartment complex that would be built at a cost of almost $5 million on a city-owned lot on Main Street that now houses the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber of Commerce offices. As proposed, the Town Center would provide 20 units of rent-controlled affordable housing.

However, considerable opposition to the project was prompted by its expensive, Main Street location and the proposed financing method, which is via a 50-year lease of the city property to a developer and lender. Mayor Ed Simon scheduled a public hearing for Monday’s council meeting specifically to hear "objections" to the project. About 45 people attended.

During that hearing, former councilman Tom Held, a structural engineer, and Milton Adam, a retired engineer, presented similar proposals for projects containing only affordable housing at an alternative location—the city’s parking lot at Leadville Avenue and Sixth Street, next to the 511 Building. Held said construction of his proposed 28-unit project, which would also contain 52 parking spaces, would save the city $65 million over 50 years.

"These two gentlemen have been doing what the city should have been doing all along," said Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commissioner Rod Sievers.

A host of unresolved, complex issues remained following their proposals and subsequent discussion. A second public hearing is scheduled for March 20 at 5:30 p.m. to take input, both pro and con, to the Town Center and a project similar to those proposed by Held and Adam.

Prompted by comments that the two men’s proposals showed that the city could benefit by seeking more citizen input, Simon started a sign-up list for a citizen committee to help plan uses for all city-owned property.

"I’ve been really thrilled by the kind of spirit we’ve had here tonight," said Pam Ritzau, another former council member, in response to numerous sign-ups.

However, Ritzau’s enthusiasm was not shared by some, who felt the hearing’s stated intent stacked it in favor of opponents to the Town Center. Mickey Garcia also pointed out that no architect was on hand to respond to Held’s contentions that the Town Center, as proposed, would violate Ketchum ordinances in regard to height, setbacks and required parking.

Held contended that due to the proposed building’s violation of height limits, with 14-foot-high ceilings on the first floor to accommodate commercial space, only 15 residential units could be built.

He also said the existing concept of the Town Center as a combined commercial and residential structure greatly increases its cost. He said a building such as the one he was proposing could be built for half that of the Town Center, and would produce more in rents.

Held proposed that the city raise money for an affordable housing project through a revenue bond, thereby maintaining ownership of it. He contended that such a financing method would generate $57 million in income over 50 years.

"We’re using our land and making money off it and providing housing," he said.

However, the passage of a bond to allow the city to build a project directly would require approval of two-thirds of its voters. David Kipping, chair of the Blaine County Housing Authority, questioned whether that is likely.

"Does the city want to get into the business of affordable housing?" he asked. "The answer four years ago was no."

Garcia and former Mayor Jerry Seiffert raised the point that efforts to build a project similar to those proposed by Held and Adam would not require abandonment of the Town Center idea; both tracks could proceed simultaneously.

In any case, Monday’s discussion revealed the potential for unexplored possibilities.

"We’re finally looking at alternatives in a sane and sensible way," said Councilman Maurice Charlot.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to draft an ordinance to reduce the speed limit at the southern end of town from 45 miles per hour to 35 miles per hour. The action came as a result of a request by Mortgage Row homeowners.

Police Chief Cal Nevland, however, advised caution. He said speed limits were set by the Idaho Transportation Department based on the top speed of the slowest 85 percent of drivers.

"If you reduce the speed limit below what 85 percent of people think is reasonable and prudent, then you’ve got to take a real strong stand," he said. "It gets close to what the public perceives as a speed trap."


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.