Friday, September 24, 2004

Warm Springs owners file for annexation

Onetime contract holder Tischer asserts claim to title

Express Staff Writer

Golfers tee off Wednesday at the first hole of the Warm Springs Golf Course. As part of a plan submitted to the city this week, the golf course would be closed and most of its acreage would be converted into a public recreation area and nature preserve. Photo by David N. Seelig

The owners of Warm Springs Ranch this week filed with the city of Ketchum a request to annex part of the property into the city and proceed with an estimated $180 million redevelopment project.

The key component of several applications submitted to the Ketchum Planning Department Wednesday, Sept. 22, is a request to annex into the city 48 acres of the approximately 77-acre site northwest of downtown.

The owners of the Warm Springs Ranch property, partners in a group called Sun Valley Ventures, in August revealed a set of detailed plans to develop the site with approximately 75 condominiums, a boutique hotel and a new building for the Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant.

?We?ve spent more than a year working with local residents, architects and a team of environmental consultants to develop a thoughtful land plan that respects the heritage of this unique property,? said Henry Dean, project director.

City planner Stefanie Webster said the Planning Department will review the application package before scheduling any public hearings to process the plans.

?First, we do have to certify that it is a complete package,? Webster said.

The applications will first be considered by the Planning and Zoning Commission, which will be asked to make a recommendation to the City Council on whether they should be approved. The City Council will have the final say on whether the proposed planned unit development and annexation applications will be approved.

Sun Valley Ventures acquired title to Warms Springs Ranch in March 2003, amid a caustic legal battle over who should ultimately be allowed to claim the property from the former owners, the Simpson family.

Area resident George W. Tischer, who in July 2002 negotiated a contract with the Simpsons to buy the property for $12 million, has in recent weeks asserted through a pair of newspaper advertisements in The Wood River Journal that litigation over title to the property is not complete.

?At the conclusion of litigation the Tischer interests will be declared the rightful and legal owners of Warm Springs Ranch,? Tischer stated in an ad circulated this week.

In response to the Tischer advertisements, Dean said all litigation over ownership of the property was settled, in favor of Sun Valley Ventures, in late 2003.

In a press release responding to the Tischer ads, Sun Valley Ventures representatives have stated that they are ?seriously considering? legal action against Tischer for ?defamation based upon statements contained in the advertisement.?

In the response, Dean states: ?We own the Warm Springs Ranch property in fee simple and neither George Tischer nor any of his fictitious entities holds any right, title or interest in such property ? His advertisement is a silly compendium of errors, omissions and half truths which are anything but ?facts.??

Dean said Thursday there is pending litigation between Sun Valley Ventures and Tischer but stressed that it pertains strictly to a claim for monetary damages brought forth by Tischer.

?Claims to title were settled in December of 2003 and we are the clear and exclusive owners of record,? Dean noted in the company?s statement.

Tischer, who has released in his ads a Ketchum mailing address and an e-mail address, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Sun Valley Ventures? proposed redevelopment of Warm Springs Ranch is squarely dependent upon its application to annex most of the site into Ketchum. Currently, all but approximately 10 acres of the site is located in Blaine County.

The key elements of the redevelopment plan include:

· Constructing a new boutique hotel, called the Lodge at Warm Springs Ranch, on both sides of Warm Springs Creek. It would include a 12-room main lodge and 48 deluxe lodging cabins.

· Developing approximately 75 condominiums and townhouses in areas adjacent to Warm Springs Road and Warm Springs Creek.

· Building a new Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant next to the main lodge.

· Constructing a new full-service, 4,000-square-foot spa on the south side of Warm Springs Creek.

· Developing 10 affordable housing units.

· Restoring and protecting more than 85 percent of the Warm Springs Golf Course land as a nature preserve with dedicated public access.

Ketchum Mayor Ed Simon has stated that any decision to annex land into the city is entirely discretional and would come only after a series of public hearings.

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