Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Does Ketchum want new hotels?

City debates new regulations as deal brews for Main Street site

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum city officials this week resumed a longstanding debate over whether they should adopt a new set of regulations designed to encourage the development of hotels in the downtown core.

Meanwhile, the owner of a high-profile Main Street property recently slated for a new hotel project has announced that he has signed a conditional sales contract with an interested buyer.

The debate came Monday, Jan. 3, as the Ketchum City Council considered a proposed set of zoning-code changes that would likely provide more incentive for developers to pursue hotel projects in commercial-zoned areas.

The amendments were proposed in response to the long, sometimes-divisive review of an application by Ketchum attorney and landowner Brian Barsotti to build an 80-room luxury hotel at 151 Main St., near the southern entrance to the city. The review process—which finally came to a close in September 2003—required 15 public meetings that spanned more than a year.

The most substantial proposed changes to the zoning code call for increasing the maximum height of hotels in the Community Core zoning district from 40 feet to 47 feet, while streamlining the entire application-review process.

Harold Moniz, planning director, first proposed the amendments to the council last summer. Moniz has said the amendments could help Barsotti—whose hotel approval has now lapsed—and other landowners who might choose to develop or redevelop a hotel in the city center.

The city's decision to revisit the issue came as Barsotti was requesting that the city reinstate approval of his proposed Main Street project, called the Bald Mountain Lodge. The approval has lapsed because Barsotti—who last year failed to find partners interested in funding the estimated $35 million to $40 million project—did not take out a building permit within one year of receiving approval.

Barsotti said he has now entered into a contract to sell the entire city block at 151 Main St., subject to a condition that the hotel approval be reinstated. He said the current asking price for the parcel is in excess of his original price of approximately $7 million.

"There has been a lot interest in the last month," he said.

In addition to the potential buyer now under contract, Barsotti said, four others have shown interest in the parcel, three of whom want to build a mixed-use residential and commercial project.

However, Mayor Ed Simon said he is not sure the city can reissue the elapsed approval.

Moniz said the approval granted is now "null and void" but Barsotti could see a new project permitted more expediently if the proposed amendments were approved.

In the last two years, several Ketchum officials have expressed an interest in increasing the numbers of hotel rooms in the city, largely to maintain business diversity and viability downtown.

Barsotti said the city—if it wants to attract new hotels—should consider permitting so-called "condominium-hotel" projects, which are considered more financially viable than traditional hotels. Such projects allow for individual ownership of units but restricts the owner's use so the units can be operated as hotel rooms for extended periods of time.

In the end, the council directed Moniz to fine tune the proposed amendments so they could be considered for approval at a future date.

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