Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Sun Valley maps future

City committee collaborates with resort to envision destiny of key land parcels

Express Staff Writer

The city of Sun Valley is mapping its future, one neighborhood at a time.

In an epic six-hour meeting last week, a group of 18 citizens and city officials put the finishing touches on a draft land-use map that will guide planning decisions throughout the city for the next decade.

The Dec. 1 gathering not only provided a glimpse into Sun Valley's crystal ball, it gave credence to promises by Mayor Jon Thorson that he would work closely with Sun Valley Co. to ensure its plans for numerous high-profile land parcels are recognized and accommodated by the city.

At issue is a proposed land-use map designed to accompany an ongoing update of the Sun Valley Comprehensive Plan, the city's guiding land-use and planning document.

In essence, the map provides a vision of how the city believes private and public land parcels should be used in years to come. While it does not mandate zoning changes, it does have great influence on future land-use decisions, including those about zoning.

On hand for the meeting was a veritable "who's who" of city officials and citizens chosen to guide the comprehensive plan update. Chaired by the mayor's wife, Linda Thorson, the Comprehensive Plan Update Steering Committee includes Sun Valley Co. General Manager Wally Huffman, Planning and Zoning Commissioner Nils Ribi and City Council President Ann Agnew.

Most of the committee's effort was toward integrating elements of Sun Valley Co.'s long-term master development plan into the comprehensive plan's land-use map.

Early on, Huffman warned that he and company owner Earl Holding want to see the city embrace their master plan, which was first released to the public last spring.

Huffman and Sun Valley Co. planning consultant Becky Zimmermann repeatedly reminded members of the group that the company's long-term plan calls for developing approximately 2,200 hotel and residential units, more than 1,000 fewer than what is currently allowed on its lands by the zoning code. The company owns more than 2,000 acres of land in the city.

The master plan calls for two new hotels in Sun Valley Village; a new golf course on the resort's Gun Club property, and hundreds of residences scattered across various Sun Valley Co. parcels, several of which are now open space.

"At some point, I have to convince you that this (master plan) is a great deal for Sun Valley," Huffman said.

Moments later, he added: "My urging to you is to not pick the pieces apart ... If you do, we're going to go back and take a look at the overall plan and see what works for us."

Nonetheless, the committee spent hours reviewing specific aspects of the Sun Valley Co. master plan, with special attention paid to several undeveloped land parcels at the entrance to the city, on the north and south sides of Sun Valley Road.

On Huffman's behalf, Zimmermann presented a conceptual plan for the area that calls for Sun Valley Co. to give up its rights to build scores of residences at the base of Penny Hill. The company, she said, might be willing to pursue a land trade with the city that would exchange the area around Penny Hill for the northernmost half of the city's Five-Acre Parcel, which could then be developed at low density.

If the land trade were executed, the city would retain the right to maintain the roadside half of the Five-Acre Parcel as a public park—a plan that is already in the works.

Huffman told the committee that Sun Valley Co. wants the right to develop residences in the Prospector area—across Elkhorn Road from the new Dollar Mountain Lodge—and has a great interest in reconfiguring and adding to the Sun Valley Golf Course.

The master plan calls for a new nine-hole stretch of golf links on the company's Gun Club parcel, plus a potential nine-hole extension near Trail Creek Cabin.

In the end, the committee agreed to several compromises that allow the land-use map to accommodate Sun Valley Co.'s master plan, but also allow the city to exert strict control over the development of sensitive areas. Some lands deemed "special planning areas" would ultimately require city approval of a detailed plan for the entire area before any development could occur.

After debating at length about the company's proposed development at the entrance to the city, the committee decided to treat the entire locale as a special planning area in which the city will seek to maintain open space along both sides of Sun Valley Road. The draft land-use map will call for pursuing the proposed land trade and allowing development on both sides of Sun Valley Road, set back behind the designated open space.

Provisions were also included to allow Sun Valley Co. to build a new golf course and to develop housing sites and a public winter recreation area in the Prospector tract.

This week, Mayor Jon Thorson praised the committee's work in drafting a land-use map that would theoretically allow Sun Valley Co. to implement most elements of its master plan.

"We got here with Sun Valley Company as a resort," he said. "We have to make sure it moves ahead as a viable resort in a competitive environment."

The land-use map and other elements of the draft update of the Sun Valley Comprehensive Plan will be presented for public comment on Thursday, Jan. 6, in the Limelight Room of the Sun Valley Inn.

The city expects to formally adopt the comprehensive plan update in spring 2005.

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