Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Warm Springs annexation nears vote

P&Z approval seems likely; council decision looms ahead

Express Staff Writer

Henry Dean

Ketchum Planning and Zoning commissioners are nearing a decisive vote on an estimated $200 million plan to redevelop the 77-acre Warm Springs Ranch property, northwest of downtown.

It appears the P&Z will endorse the project, leaving the developers and some P&Z commissioners increasingly eager to get the plans before the Ketchum City Council, which will have the final say in the matter.

In a P&Z meeting devoted entirely to discussing the Warm Springs Ranch plan, project director Henry Dean on Monday, March 28, told commissioners that he would like to see a vote on April 13, a target date for the P&Z to complete its review.

"This is costing a lot of money," Dean said. "We really need to get before the council."

City staff and P&Z members said they would seek to complete the review by April 13 but suggested that a final vote on whether to endorse the project could be delayed. The P&Z has been scrutinizing the Warm Springs proposal—billed as the biggest development plan ever put before the city—since early November.

At issue before the P&Z Monday was a proposal by development group Sun Valley Ventures to redevelop Warm Springs Ranch with a mix of residences, commercial operations and open space.

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

The plan calls for constructing a 60-unit boutique hotel, developing 75 condominiums and townhouses, building a new Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant and erecting a 180-vehicle parking structure. All told, approximately 365,000 square feet of structures would be erected.

As part of the plan, the nine-hole Warm Springs Golf Course would be decommissioned after the 2005 summer season. Eight public tennis courts would also be decommissioned.

In exchange for approval, the development group has proposed to include in the project numerous public amenities, including a 37-acre public park—deeded to the Hailey-based Wood River Land Trust—and 30 units of affordable housing.

Sun Valley Ventures is also proposing to complete a $3 million restoration of lands along Warm Springs Creek, build a public hiking trail to connect Warm Springs Village and the River Run base area of Bald Mountain, and build six public tennis courts on the southeast end of the site.

On Monday, Dean put forth an additional offer to establish a five-year fund to support a youth golf program in Ketchum until a proposed new municipal golf course is completed east of Hailey. The fund, Dean said, would provide approximately $7,000 per year, enough to cover costs for 20 students to practice golf at the Bigwood Golf Club in Ketchum.

The P&Z is trying to adhere to a stated policy of incurring "no net loss" of public recreation facilities, prompting them to ask for continued public access to golf and tennis, in addition to the other proposed benefits.

Dean has repeatedly told the P&Z that the development group under no circumstances would keep the Warm Springs Golf Course in operation. If the annexation application is denied for that reason, he has said, the group would go to "Plan B," subdividing the acreage into 40 residential lots with no public access.

Over the months of review, P&Z members have expressed increasing support for the annexation and redevelopment plan, particularly in light of the mounting public benefits being offered.

P&Z commissioners on Monday expressed strong support for the planned conversion of the majority of the golf course acreage into a vast public park and nature preserve.

"To me, it's one of the huge benefits of the project," said Commissioner Greg Strong.

Other commissioners were equally positive but requested additional details on a plan to use minimally toxic chemicals to kill the golf course turf.

All told, approximately 23 acres of the Warm Springs property would be restored to a natural condition, approximately 17 acres would be landscaped, 29 acres would be preserved as they exist today, and 7.7 acres would be developed.

Sun Valley Ventures, if it gets city approval, is tentatively planning to start work on the project next fall.

The P&Z will next discuss the plan Monday, April 11, during a special meeting at noon on the Warm Springs Ranch property.

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