Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Y leaders propose vision to P&Z

Organization closing in on 99-year land lease with city

Express Staff Writer

Plans for the proposed Wood River Community YMCA call for an approximately 84,000-square-foot structure that resembles an historic railroad station. YMCA graphic

The proposed two-level building includes a 750-seat ice arena, a recreational pool, a lap pool, a large rock climbing gym, a basketball gym and a fitness center.

Years of planning and fund raising came to fruition this week for leaders of the Wood River Community YMCA, when they finally got a chance to formally propose their plans to build a state-of-the-art recreation center in Ketchum.

Hours after meeting with the Ketchum City Council Monday, Dec. 13, to discuss terms of a 99-year lease of city property, YMCA advocates proposed to the Planning and Zoning Commission to construct a massive, 84,000-square-foot structure that includes an ice rink and two swimming pools.

One P&Z commissioner called it a "beautiful building." Another called it a "fantastic project" that has been "needed for a long time."

But, at the end of the day, it was apparent the YMCA still has some of its biggest challenges looming in the months ahead.

During a nearly two-hour meeting with the City Council, YMCA leaders Monday sought to finalize a lengthy lease agreement with the city that would allow the group's building to occupy approximately 1.5 acres of the city-owned Park and Ride lot at the corner of Warm Springs and Saddle roads.

The two parties closed in on final terms for the lease, but repeatedly got hung up during discussions of how the $16 million facility would be operated if the YMCA's management failed.

Most council members agreed the YMCA should provide a $250,000 "security deposit" the city could use in the event the lease is violated and the facility is taken over by the city. The figure was debated at length because the YMCA must still raise about $10 million to cover the costs of the project and fund its own $1 million operating reserve.

However, Councilwoman Terry Tracy opposed a plan to allow the $250,000 account to accrue over a five-year time period.

"I can't support this," she said.

The YMCA and the City Council will seek to complete a final draft of the land lease on Monday, Dec. 20.

Appearing before the P&Z Monday night, YMCA leaders received generally favorable reviews of their plans, but failed in an attempt to have one P&Z member removed from the review process.

At the onset of the hearing, attorney Ed Lawson, a member of the YMCA's board of directors, asked Commissioner Anne Corrock to recuse herself from reviewing the YMCA's development application.

"I believe Anne's conduct leading up to this application makes it very clear that she has a bias against this applicant," Lawson said.

Corrock, who has publicly questioned whether the city is giving the YMCA too much property, refused to step aside.

"I have questions and I have thoughts about this project, but I have not stated if I am for or against it," she said.

Moments later, YMCA representatives were presenting their plan to Corrock and the rest of the P&Z.

The proposed two-level building includes a 750-seat ice arena, a recreational pool, a lap pool, a large rock climbing gym, a basketball gym and a fitness center.

As proposed, the building and the surrounding landscaped area would occupy 2.6 acres of the 5.8-acre Park and Ride site. It would reach a maximum height of 45.6 feet, about 10 feet over the 35-foot limit on the parcel.

The YMCA has stated that it would need 101 parking spaces but is relying on using surrounding city land for parking and snow storage.

Greg Comstock, Ketchum senior planner, said parking is "an issue" for the project.

Larry Young, a Ketchum resident who led an initiative last fall to force voters to approve the plan to give one-quarter of the Park and Ride lot to the YMCA, said the numbers representing the YMCA's total coverage area do not add up.

Young said the YMCA told voters 73 percent of the Park and Ride lot—or about 4.4 acres—would stay open for the city to develop as it chooses.

"I look forward to you finding that 4.4 acres," he said.

As some members of the public cringed at seeing the YMCA's building, landscaping and parking take up much of the southern end of the site, one threw a new wrench at the plan.

Floyd McCracken, head of a committee to find a permanent location for the historic Congregational church that once housed Louie's Italian restaurant, said he wants to see the church put on the southern tip of the Park and Ride.

In the end, P&Z commissioners showed consensus that the church should be located on the site, south of the YMCA.

In addition, commissioners said the YMCA should make minor changes to the design of the building and should consider including some employee housing.

The P&Z will conduct its next review of the YMCA's plans on Monday, Jan. 24.

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