Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Sun Valley enacts moratorium?barely

Development applications will take back seat to community housing plan


By GREGORY FOLEY
Express Staff Writer

After a long, hard-fought debate, Sun Valley City Council members last week narrowly enacted the first phase of a plan to significantly boost the city's inventory of community housing.

In a 3-1 vote Thursday, Dec. 16, council members approved a 99-day moratorium on the processing of new development applications, with an understanding that city officials will use the time to draft a new ordinance that could mandate deed-restricted housing be included in many new land-use projects.

Mayor Jon Thorson, who proposed the plan, told the council and members of the public that Sun Valley must lead an effort to foster the development of community housing in the Wood River Valley.

"I think that we, as citizens, have to be responsible," Thorson said. "Now is the time to do it."

With the moratorium now in effect, the city will not process land-use applications that were not submitted and deemed complete before Dec. 16. Single-family house projects, remodeling projects and projects that have been approved or are already under review by the city are all exempt.

Thorson said he believes the moratorium will not create any "undue hardship" on developers, largely because it is scheduled to end before the building season commences. The city will have an option to extend the moratorium to last up to 182 days if extra time is needed to write a new community-housing ordinance.

The planned community-housing ordinance, city officials have said, will likely propose that all new developments, possibly excluding single-family houses, include some measure of community housing. Such a requirement would certainly be the most aggressive community-housing legislation in Blaine County.

The city of Sun Valley now requires community housing be included in developments in commercial areas but not other zones.

Any new regulations would have to be reviewed and approved by the City Council.

The official vote on the moratorium came long after the public thought the debate was closed.

At the very end of the meeting, City Attorney Rand Peebles declared that the council's first decision on the matter—cast an hour earlier—was not legal under Idaho Code. The first decision in favor of the plan was achieved by two separate votes, one that was a 2-2 tie vote broken by Thorson.

The tie vote—on whether to declare an emergency and waive the city's requirement to publish the moratorium ordinance and read it at three separate meetings—could not be broken by the mayor, Peebles said. Subsequently, the entire first decision was thrown out.

Moments later, the council voted 3-1 on each of the two motions required to adopt the emergency moratorium ordinance. Both times, Councilman Kevin Laird cast the dissenting vote.

Laird said he supports community housing but believes the mayor's plan to instate a development moratorium is flawed. The burden of building community housing, he said, should not be placed only on developers who build in the future.

"I don't like the Chicken Little approach," Laird said. "My sense of fair play is that everyone in this room should pay for community housing."

Councilman Lud Renick voted in favor of the moratorium, despite initially voicing strong opposition to Thorson's plan.

Early in the meeting, Renick said he sees the 99-day moratorium as a "roadblock" to the creation of community housing.

"I think we're wasting a lot of valuable time," he said.

Councilman Blair Boand and Council President Ann Agnew joined about a dozen members of the public in supporting Thorson's plan.

Agnew said the moratorium "is just the impetus" the city needs to tackle the community housing shortage.

Wally Huffman, general manager of Sun Valley Co., the city's largest landowner, told the council to "have at it."

However, he expressed concerns that other municipalities in the region might not follow Sun Valley's lead.

"I urge you to integrate this discussion regionally," Huffman said.

Michael David, executive director of the Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority, said it is "fairly obvious" the community needs workforce housing.

Sun Valley resident Nils Ribi concurred.

"The future of the city is dependent upon community housing," he said. "This is the time to stand forward and say, 'This is the right thing to do.'"




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