Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Warm Springs gains momentum

Annexation hearing discussion focuses on recreation, housing

Express Staff Writer

A plan to redevelop one of the most prominent properties in the Ketchum area gained substantial momentum last week but still faces several hurdles.

In a special meeting Thursday, Dec. 9, the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission issued several statements of support for an application to annex the 77-acre Warm Springs Ranch property into the city and redevelop the entire site.

"Each time I go through this, I see things I like more than the last time," said Commissioner Harold Johnson.

P&Z Chairman Greg Strong followed suit.

"My overall opinion of this is really pretty positive," he said.

At issue before the P&Z last week was a proposal to pursue what has been deemed the biggest development project the city of Ketchum has ever seen.

With some 75 people packed into the Ketchum City Hall meeting room, development group Sun Valley Ventures presented for the second time its plan to redevelop the high-profile golf course property with a mix of residences, commercial operations and public open space.

The key aspects of the estimated $200 million plan call for annexing into Ketchum approximately 65 acres of land under the jurisdiction of Blaine County and completely redeveloping about nine acres already within the city's boundaries.

The plan calls for constructing a 60-unit boutique hotel, developing 75 condominiums and townhouses, building a new Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant and erecting a 180-vehicle parking structure.

In exchange for approval, the development group has proposed to include in the project a list of amenities to benefit the city and the public at large.

Henry Dean, Sun Valley Ventures project director, announced that the group is still offering to build on city property 30 units of affordable housing, a complex of eight public tennis courts and a community swimming pool, if the Warm Springs Ranch plan is allowed to proceed.

The group is also offering to deed approximately 37 acres of the property—where the Warm Springs Golf Course now exists—to the Hailey-based Wood River Land Trust, which would manage the area as a public park and nature preserve.

Sun Valley Ventures is also proposing to complete a $2 million restoration of Warm Springs Creek and to build a public hiking trail to connect existing paths between Warm Springs Village and the River Run base area of Bald Mountain.

Most of the discussions last week focused on how the development would impact the city's inventory of recreational facilities.

Early on, Dean apologized for advancing a plan that calls for decommissioning the nine-hole Warm Springs Golf Course, but said that aspect is not negotiable.

"It's not up for discussion," he told the P&Z.

Kaz Thea, a wildlife biologist acting as a project consultant, said the plans to convert much of the golf course into a nature preserve and public park would benefit humans and wild animals alike.

"As a biologist, I'm really excited about this project," she said.

Numerous residents of the Ketchum area expressed optimism about the plan to establish a public park on the site.

Maurice Charlat, a former member of the Ketchum City Council, said the city "should be mindful" of the economic benefits the project could bring.

However, not all members of the public offered words of support.

Ketchum resident Terry Hogue said the project would not conform to the city's land-use map, which is designed to guide decisions about land development.

In an ensuing discussion about affordable housing, the P&Z asked the developers to provide a meaningful amount of workforce housing on their own property. Sun Valley Ventures, which has offered to build 10 on-site deed-restricted housing units, tentatively agreed to provide additional units for Warm Springs employees.

The P&Z will next review the project in a special meeting at noon Wednesday, Dec. 22. It is anticipated that it will be months before the P&Z advises the City Council on whether the project should be approved.

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