Friday, April 15, 2005

Warm Springs debate hits fever pitch

City request to own tennis courts called a 'deal breaker'

Express Staff Writer

A debate Wednesday over ownership of six tennis courts proposed as part of the Warm Springs Ranch development threatened to bring the $200 million plan to a halt.

After four hours of debate over Sun Valley Ventures' application to redevelop the 77-acre site northwest of downtown Ketchum, the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission on April 13 opted not to vote on whether to endorse the project. Instead, the P&Z decided to continue its review of the plan next month.

Much of the discussion focused on recreation aspects of the proposed development, which includes a mix of housing, commercial facilities and public open space. Kirk Mason, Ketchum parks director, said the city would like to own and operate six public tennis courts the developer has agreed to include in its plans.

"An item of concern for us is that Sun Valley Ventures gives to the city (three acres of) land for the tennis courts," Mason said. "If this is going to be open to the public, I don't see any reason why the Parks Department shouldn't run it. Development agreements are good but they don't really assure in perpetuity public access."

Project director Henry Dean called that idea a "deal breaker."

"I can't take a $200 million operation and have the city operate a portion of it," Dean said. "I just can't go there. We will not agree to give up the three acres and turn over this big chunk of our property to the city of Ketchum. It is not negotiable. This is asking too much."

Commissioner Ron Parsons said his main concern was not who owned the property, but how much access the public would have.

"Access is really the crux of the matter," he said. "It should be unlimited access."

Dean responded that he had no intention of limiting public access.

"The offer is ... we will operate (the tennis facility) exactly as it was operated before," Dean said. "We're just going to move it across the river."

On Thursday, Dean said he was unaware that city officials wanted him to give ownership of the courts to the city.

"It was a total surprise to me," he said. "It had been resolved by the commission but reopened by the Parks Department."

But Mason said the request should not have been a surprise because some city officials said last year that they would want the city to own some of the property. His memo making the request was simply more specific in its intentions, he said.

Later in the meeting, when discussions broke down, Dean said he might be forced to withdraw the Sun Valley Ventures application.

"Nobody wants to go to Plan B," Dean said, referring to the company's option to scratch the project and subdivide the golf course into single-family lots with no public facilities or access.

"If you make it so tough on us, that's the way we get our money back," Dean said. "We've worked so well together. Don't load this donkey down to the point it can't function. It's a deal-breaker. This will not be deeded to the city."

Commissioner Greg Strong tried to find common ground.

"I don't have a problem at all with these guys owning it as long as the city has continual use of it," Strong said. "I don't think the priorities will be that different that something can't be worked out."

Some members of the public expressed their desire to keep the city out of the facility's management.

"We don't need any more government people on government salaries," said Ketchum resident Mickey Garcia. "You have a good agreement in front of you. Please come to your senses."

Ketchum resident Paul Wilcox agreed.

"I think that what Sun Valley Ventures has offered in terms of parks and recreation is certainly fair and probably more on the generous side," he said. "I think there's a point (at) which you have to stop asking for stuff."

In addition to the tennis courts, Sun Valley Ventures has already agreed to include in its plans a 37-acre public park, 30 units of affordable housing, a public hiking trail across Bald Mountain and money to fund a golf program for youths. It would deed the park land to the Hailey-based Wood River Land Trust.

Project planner Jim Ruscitto and landscape architect Ben Young presented commissioners Wednesday with details on the design and landscaping for the project.

Commissioners generally favored the design, but some members of the public said they were unhappy with the height and density of some developed areas.

Ketchum resident Joe Young said he felt he had been given the "bait and switch" over proposed open space near his home.

"There's not going to be an open space (near your house)," Ruscitto said. "Get over it."

Commissioners unanimously supported a pedestrian bridge near Irene Street and Bald Mountain Road. Realizing that the bridge—which is designed to access the 37-acre park—is not popular with neighbors in the immediate vicinity, commissioners opted to recommend that parking not be allowed there.

"I think we ought to address the neighbors' concerns, but I think this city ought to take accesses like this whenever and wherever it can," Strong said. "Contrary to what's been said, this is not a private neighborhood. It's a public street."

The discussion and public hearing will resume at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 5.

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