Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Simplot lot development stalls

Special meeting scheduled May 27

Express Staff Writer

A debate over details of the proposed Simplot lot development threatened to throw the project off course Monday, but Ketchum City Council members and project leaders agreed to a special meeting for further discussion.

Conflict arose during a public hearing May 16 regarding the project, the fourth time the development's representatives appeared before the council.

"We do have some distance between you and I," said property owner Scott Simplot. "Please accept the deal as it is and let's get on with this thing."

A company called Simplot Ketchum Property has applied for permission to subdivide and develop under a detailed master plan the 3.8-acre parcel that comprises two city blocks northwest of the Ketchum Post Office.

A key provision in the plan calls for the city to give up 33,000 square feet of undeveloped public rights of way on the site. To offset the loss of city land, project representatives have offered numerous public amenities, including a reduced sales price for a parcel for a new city hall. Other proposed benefits include 10,000 square feet of community housing, two public parks, improvements to a public bike path crossing the site and public access to a 136-space underground parking garage.

"I bought the dream," Simplot said. "I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could put City Hall there.' That's what started this whole process."

Council members were cool to the idea of moving City Hall from its current site, however.

Simplot's comments about a city hall prompted Councilwoman Terry Tracy to question whether Simplot was still interested in pursuing the proposed development plan. Several city officials had previously stated they want to develop a new civic center where City Hall now sits, not on the Simplot lot.

Council President Randy Hall and Councilman Baird Gourlay wanted to see more specifics before signing off on the plan. Hall said he is concerned about what would go on the northeast portion of the site, if a new city hall did not.

"My concerns revolve around Lot 3, the restrictions you're putting on it, where we're going to get the capital to build it, what kind of deed-restricted units will there be, how many market-rate units are you going to put on the ground floor," Hall said. "Before I make a commitment, I think it's important to know what these costs are," adding, "As a City Council member, it's incumbent for me to be a negotiator."

Fenton said the basics were hammered out before the Planning and Zoning Commission, but details, and the cost of those details, could not yet be presented.

"If we started tomorrow, we're not going to see a schematic with cost estimates you can respond to for four to six months," Fenton said. "There's an element of good faith in what we're talking about."

The P&Z last winter recommended approval of the plan. Every building on every lot would still have to go through a design review process, said Harold Moniz, city planning director.

Tracy expressed concern about phasing and getting the project completed expeditiously.

"I don't want to be sitting here in seven years ... I don't want anyone coming back here for an extension," she said. "I want to see this done. The public benefit comes from the whole project being completed in a timely manner."

She added that the lack of opposition from neighbors was a point in the project's favor.

Representatives from the Sun Valley Center for the Arts reminded the council that approval delays were holding up their plan to build a new headquarters on the southeast portion of the lot.

"The center is ready to go," said Will Northrop, board president. "We're four years into this project. We're losing a building season. We need to either hit the gas or hit the brakes."

"You're starting to put us in a difficult situation," he added. "This is not a threat. (But) we're going to have to start changing some of the assumptions we've made. I hope you don't hold our efforts hostage while you put this together."

Mayor Ed Simon said the council was simply doing what they are tasked to do.

"We do have to do our due diligence on all of the applications," he said. "We're not holding you up intentionally."

The council will hold a special meeting on May 27 to discuss the issue.

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