Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Parking lot is hot real estate

Requests for land on 5.8-acre parcel greatly exceed usable space

Express Staff Writer

"When people look at that property, I don't think they realize how small it is after you put the Y in."

Jim Ruscitto, Ketchum Historical Preservation Commission

The city of Ketchum's Park and Ride lot, a vacant 5.8-acre sliver of land north of downtown, is suddenly one of the hottest commodities in the Wood River Valley.

Ketchum City Council members this week fielded two requests to use land at the site, fueling competition over what interest groups will be allowed to use approximately 4.3 acres not already claimed by the Wood River Community YMCA.

The feeding frenzy over land on the Park and Ride lot, located at the corner of Warm Springs and Saddle roads, started after Ketchum voters in November approved a plan for the city to lease about one-quarter of the property to the Ketchum-based YMCA. The organization is planning to build an approximately 84,000-square-foot recreation center on the center portion of the site.

On Monday, Jan. 3, Kirk Mason, Ketchum parks and recreation director, asked the council to consider allocating some of the remaining land for a complex of public tennis courts, an outdoor swimming pool and a community meeting room.

Mason said the site might also be appropriate for a miniature golf course and a park designed for trick bicyclists.

Sun Valley Ventures, the development group that owns the 77-acre Warm Springs Ranch property northwest of the Park and Ride, has issued an offer to build for the city six public tennis courts and an outdoor swimming pool on city property. The offer has been made as part of a proposal to redevelop Warm Springs Ranch.

Later Monday, Jim Ruscitto, chairman of the Ketchum Historical Preservation Commission, reminded the council that the commission has recommended the city relocate on the Park and Ride lot the late 1800s-era Congregational church known as Louie's, after its onetime name as an Italian restaurant.

Ruscitto said the church—which would be operated as a community center—would occupy only one-half acre of land if placed on the lot's south end.

As an alternative, he said, the church could be located on the north end of the lot, where it might serve as a launching point for walking tours to the Ketchum house once owned by author Ernest Hemingway.

Ruscitto said the Historical Preservation Commission also has ideas for relocating other historical buildings on the Park and Ride lot, if space became available.

Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Simon has already indicated he wants the city to develop some 30 units of deed-restricted affordable housing on the north end of the site.

At the same time, the city has recognized that the Park and Ride lot was purchased in part to facilitate transportation. City planners have said scores of parking spaces will be needed to provide access to the YMCA, provide parking for the general public and meet a shared parking agreement with the adjacent Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood.

Ruscitto, an architect, said he has drafted a rough master plan for the site, only to discover that all of the various parties cannot see their land needs met by the Park and Ride lot.

"When people look at that property, I don't think they realize how small it is after you put the Y in," he said.

Councilwoman Terry Tracy showed support for developing recreational facilities on the site, built in addition to the YMCA. She added that she is not sure it is the "city's responsibility" to develop affordable housing.

Councilwoman Christina Potters said she is also supportive of recreational facilities going on the site but is not convinced public parking should be a priority.

"I do a lot of walking in this town," Potters said. "Why do we have to have cars?"

Council President Randy Hall said the city must determine exactly how much space it has to work with on the site before making any promises. He said that because the city bought the Park and Ride lot for recreation, transportation and cultural uses, Ketchum might have to ask its citizens if it could develop affordable housing there.

Although no clear direction was taken Monday, the council did direct city planners to work with Ruscitto to develop a tentative master plan for the entire Park and Ride parcel.

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