Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Simplot plan gets initial OK

Development blueprint calls for city to give up 33,000 square feet of land


By GREGORY FOLEY
Express Staff Writer

A proposed master plan to develop the Simplot lot in Ketchum, a Tourist-zoned parcel that covers two city blocks between Second and Third avenues and Fourth and Sixth streets, cleared a significant hurdle on Monday. Photo by Willy Cook

It appears that a plan to develop downtown Ketchum's largest vacant land parcel will be sent to the City Council with a blessing from the city's planning review board.

By a narrow margin, the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission this week endorsed a request that the city vacate two platted, undeveloped roadways that bisect the Simplot lot, the 3.8-acre parcel that comprises two city blocks immediately northwest of the Ketchum Post Office.

The 3-2 vote in favor of giving up the city rights of way to the Simplot lot owners came Monday, Nov. 22, near the end of the P&Z's seventh meeting to discuss a proposed master plan that would govern development of the site in years to come. Commission Chairman Greg Strong and Commissioner Anne Corrock cast the dissenting votes.

Corrock repeatedly told the applicant—real-estate broker Dick Fenton, who represents the property's owners, Gay and Scott Simplot—that she believes the city should not give up the approximately 33,000 square feet of public land in exchange for several public benefits that would come with development of the site.

Strong ultimately agreed.

"I have to see some real public benefits from (this) to say we're going to walk away from the city rights of way," Strong said.

After commissioners voted to recommend the City Council approve the Simplot's request to vacate the rights of way, they then voted 4-1 to endorse one of three other applications submitted in support of the Simplot lot master plan.

The decision to approve a planned-unit development blueprint for the site came at the close of the meeting. The P&Z is expected to vote next month on a subdivision application and a detailed development agreement that would dictate how the four subdivided lots must be developed.

All four of the applications submitted in support of the Simplot lot master plan must be approved by the City Council.

In May, Fenton submitted the master plan applications, which essentially call for the city to give up its rights of way on the site in exchange for gaining strict control over how the area is developed. In addition, the Simplots have proposed to include 10,000 square feet of affordable housing on the site and to dedicate large amounts of open space for use as public parks.

Key elements of the Simplot master plan include:

  • Permitting development of the west half of the property with no more than 30 duplex housing units.

  • Developing three large Tourist-zoned lots and two public parks on the eastern half of the property. One lot is set to be sold at a reduced price to the Sun Valley Center for the Arts.

  • Installing a 136-stall underground parking garage across from the post office.

  • Rerouting an existing public bike path through the site.

  • Closing—but not vacating—the section of Third Avenue that borders the parcel on the west side.

The Simplots have not determined if they will develop the site themselves, pursue a joint venture or sell the subdivided parcels and associated building rights to individual developers. The proposed master plan would govern how the site is developed but is by no means a guarantee it will be developed.

The uncertainty of how, when and by whom the site might be developed caused concern among some P&Z commissioners, particularly Corrock and Strong.

Corrock on several occasions Monday said she is very concerned the public benefits of the plan are contingent upon the development being completed in full. The affordable housing, the public parks and the public parking garage are all scheduled to be built in phases, possibly over a long period of time.

"One of my concerns is that ... this is all conceptual," Corrock said. "It seems to me that you guys should be providing these benefits now."

In the end, the majority of commissioners agreed to endorse the phasing concept but attached a condition to their support that stipulates if no development has occurred on the site in 10 years, the city would regain its rights of way and the master plan would be voided.

Fenton said the Simplots are interested in seeing the site developed but want to ensure the end result is something they and the public can appreciate.

"They want to do something that they're proud of," he said.

The P&Z is expected to complete their review of the master plan at its next scheduled meeting, Monday, Dec. 13.




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