Friday, January 21, 2005

Warm Springs antes up housing

Elk debate set to take center stage at next project review

Express Staff Writer

Henry Dean, project director for a proposed redevelopment of Warm Springs Ranch, told Ketchum Planning and Zoning commissioners this week that the developers would include 30 affordable housing units in their plan, but not more. Photo by David N. Seelig

The owners of Warm Springs Ranch this week continued to inch toward gaining city approval for their proposed $200 million redevelopment of the Ketchum-area property.

In a special meeting Wednesday, Jan. 19, the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission came to terms with owners' representatives over how much affordable housing should be included in the project plans.

Despite the progress, a new debate about the development is poised to take center stage: What should become of a herd of elk that inhabits the property and surrounding area in the winter months?

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

With some 60 people packed into the Ketchum City Hall meeting room, development group Sun Valley Ventures presented for the third time its plan to redevelop the 77-acre golf course property with a mix of residences, commercial operations and public open space.

The key aspects of the plan call for annexing into Ketchum approximately 65 acres of land under the jurisdiction of Blaine County and completely redeveloping about 11 acres already within the city's boundaries.

The Sun Valley Ventures plan calls for constructing a 60-unit boutique hotel, developing 75 market-rate 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.

On Wednesday, Henry Dean, Sun Valley Ventures project director, formalized an offer to include in the project 10 units of for-sale, deed-restricted community housing and 20 units of rental housing for project employees.

"I think it's a very fair share of the burden," Dean said.

Michael David, executive director of the Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority, commended the developers for responding to a December request by the P&Z to increase the number of workforce-housing units. In its original plan put forth last year, the developers offered eight to 10 units of community housing.

"It's much closer to what we at the Housing Authority were hoping for," he said.

David said his original request to the developers was for 32 units with a minimum of 35,000 square feet of living area. Sun Valley Ventures has agreed to ensure its units would provide at least 20,000 square feet of space.

All five members of the P&Z said they are generally satisfied with the offer.

"I don't want to push it to that point where we lose this (project) and it becomes an unworkable deal," said Commissioner Greg Strong.

After a lengthy, unresolved discussion on how traffic caused by the project would be managed and mitigated, the topic turned to a herd of elk that has frequented the ranch every winter to feed on hay provided for them.

Sun Valley Ventures—which bought the property in 2003—has this year discouraged feeding of the elk, to the chagrin of some neighbors and animal lovers.

Dean maintains that the decision was made at the request of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

"We're not feeding them because we've been told not to," he said.

Management of the resident elk population is expected to be a primary topic of the P&Z's next review of the project, set to take place in a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 9.

It is anticipated that several public meetings will ensue before the P&Z advises the City Council on whether the project should be approved.

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