Wednesday, December 15, 2004

P&Z endorses Simplot plan

Some questions linger as development proposal heads to City Council

Express Staff Writer

A long-debated proposal to develop downtown Ketchum's largest vacant land parcel received a key set of endorsements this week from the city's planning review board.

In two votes Monday, Dec. 13, the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission approved separate proposals to rezone and subdivide the Simplot lot, the 3.8-acre parcel that comprises two city blocks immediately northwest of the Ketchum Post Office.

Commissioner Anne Corrock cast the dissenting vote in a 3-1 decision to approve a rezone of the property under a strict development agreement. She abstained from a 3-0 vote on a plan to subdivide the parcel into four lots.

Chairman Greg Strong was absent from the meeting.

The decisions came after a P&Z vote on Nov. 22 supporting a request that the city grant to the Simplot lot owners two city rights of way that bisect the site.

In the end, real-estate broker Dick Fenton and architect Jim Ruscitto—who represent the property's owners, Gay and Scott Simplot—had received P&Z approval for four separate applications needed to advance their master plan. All four of the applications 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 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 not a guarantee it will be developed.

Repeating statements she has made during seven prior meetings on the Simplot plan, Corrock said she is concerned receipt of the public benefits is 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 by different developers.

"We don't really get the benefits until the project is completed," Corrock said.

Evan Robertson, attorney for the applicants, asked the P&Z to consider that the master plan concept is somewhat unique and has advantages over developing the area under a traditional lot-and-block scheme.

"You do get (benefits) if this project moves forward," he said.

The P&Z has attached a condition to its 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.

Commissioners essentially agreed that questions do linger about whether the city can be fully assured it is getting a good deal, but determined they had been contemplating the plan long enough.

"Sooner or later, we're going to have to send this to the council," said Commissioner Ron Parsons.

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