Wednesday, January 26, 2005

YMCA plan review hits a snag

Ketchum P&Z bogs down in debate over advisory election

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum resident Nick Maricich told the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission Monday that it should not put too many demands on the proposed Wood River Community YMCA. Affordable housing should not be required, he said, because the YMCA is trying to provide "affordable recreation." The west face of the proposed Wood River Community YMCA is designed to resemble an old-fashioned railroad depot. Photo by Willy Cook

A debate over the validity of a 2004 advisory election on whether Ketchum should grant land to the Wood River Community YMCA is continuing to plague the project.

In a two-hour hearing designed to discuss the layout and design of the planned YMCA complex, Ketchum Planning and Zoning commissioners this week spent lengthy periods debating whether the non-profit organization has rights to as much land as it proposes to use.

Commissioner Greg Strong led a discussion that raised numerous questions about the YMCA's proposal to build an approximately 84,000-square-foot recreational complex on the city-owned Park and Ride lot, at the corner of Warm Springs and Saddle roads. The lot comprises approximately 5.8 acres of land, of which the YMCA is proposing to occupy 2.6 acres.

"You kind of don't have enough land to do what you want to do," Strong told a group of YMCA representatives. "I voted for this thing, and when I voted for it I had no idea you were going to use this much land."

Near the close of the meeting Monday, Jan. 24, Strong said he believes it would be "ridiculous" for the P&Z to spend numerous hours reviewing the project if the City Council is not certain it will provide adequate land to accommodate it.

"This is a long road we're going down here," Strong said. "We don't want at the last minute to do some hatchet job on (the plan)."

Strong said he would like the City Council to "make a judgment" about how much land the YMCA will be allowed to use before the P&Z gets too far along in reviewing the plans.

The debate Monday is emblematic of the circular nature of discussions about the YMCA since a Nov. 2 advisory election asked Ketchum citizens whether they want to lease "approximately 25 percent" of the Park and Ride lot—or about 1.5 acres—to accommodate the project.

After voters overwhelmingly endorsed the plan, the city started negotiating a contract to lease to the YMCA a portion of the Park and Ride lot for $1 per year for 99 years. In December, to help the YMCA raise funds for the estimated $16 million project, the City Council passed a resolution stating the city would make "a good faith effort" to execute a lease in the near future.

Then, last week, Mayor Ed Simon said he believes signing a lease at this stage would be premature and should be delayed. Amid objections from two council members, Simon said he did not believe delaying the lease would hinder the YMCA from advancing its architectural plans through the P&Z review process.

Now, it appears that the ongoing debate over the lease and questions from Simon and others about whether voters understood how much land the city intended to give to the YMCA are indeed hindering the project from moving forward.

On Monday—after the YMCA for the second time presented plans that show the project would occupy 2.6 acres of the Park and Ride lot, with landscaping and surrounding open space included—Strong and others questioned if the YMCA's plans could be approved.

The big question, Strong said to YMCA representatives, is: "What did the voters approve about how much land you get to use?"

Strong said the YMCA building—which by itself occupies approximately 27 percent of the Park and Ride lot—seems to be pushing the limits of what voters approved. The 2.6-acre area the complex would occupy, he argued, has inadequate snow storage and includes no parking.

"In every instance, it just seems like you're bursting at the seams and you don't have the land that you need."

Ed Lawson, an attorney representing the YMCA, said the problem lies in the city's failing to finalize a land lease for the project, which has been designed to reflect the terms of the vote. He said the building was specifically designed to occupy approximately 25 percent of the lot, with an understanding that parking and open-space buffer areas would be on city-controlled land.

One set of plans circulated by the YMCA before the election showed the building would occupy 1.5 acres, with an additional 1.1 acres needed for buffer areas. The YMCA is proposing approximately 105 parking spaces be developed around the site in a joint parking agreement with the city.

"If the city changes the deal we believe we have made ... then the design would have to change," Lawson said.

He added: "The voters voted overwhelmingly for that lease."

Nonetheless, Strong said literature circulated about the project by the YMCA before the election was misleading, claiming that the development would occupy only 1.5 acres.

Commissioner Anne Corrock said the YMCA is "pushing it" by asking for approval of a project that does not include parking in its confines and has inadequate snow storage.

However, general support for the project appears firm among other members of the P&Z.

Commissioner Ron Parsons said he believes the proposed building is "great looking."

Commissioner Jack Rutherford said he is supportive of the building being as big as it needs to be to include a list of major recreational facilities many members of the community have said they want. The proposed YMCA would include an ice rink, two swimming pools, a gymnasium, a climbing wall and other facilities.

"The building should not be any smaller than it is," Rutherford said, garnering applause from the public.

The P&Z will conduct its next review of the project on Feb. 28.

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