Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Ketchum approves Simplot lot plan

Project still hinges on vacation of city street, alley

Express Staff Writer

Though not quite a done deal, development plans for the Simplot property in central Ketchum took a big step forward last week.

Four items were up for consideration during the Ketchum City Council's special meeting Friday, May 27: a proposed planned unit development, a development agreement rezone, a preliminary plat and street vacation.

The council approved all but proposed vacation of an undeveloped portion of Fifth Street and an alley that would bisect the property.

The applicant, Simplot Ketchum Property, has requested permission to subdivide and develop under a detailed master plan the 3.8-acre parcel that stretches out over two city blocks immediately northwest of the Ketchum Post Office.

The street vacation is an integral aspect in the plan. If approved, the city would give up 33,000 square feet of undeveloped public rights of way.

In exchange, project representatives have offered bonuses, including a reduced sales price for a parcel on one lot—on the northeast corner of the site—for a new city hall.

City Council members reiterated their desire that Ketchum City Hall stay where it is, however, prompting the applicant to cancel that part of the offer.

"The bargain notion for a sale for city hall is off the table," said Simplot attorney Evan Robertson.

Other proposed benefits are 10,000 square feet of deed-restricted community housing, two public parks, improvements to a public bike path crossing the site and public access to a 136-space underground parking garage. The owners of the site have also proposed to sell a lot next to the post office at a reduced price for a new headquarters for the Sun Valley Center for the Arts.

"Irrespective of Lot 3, I look at all the public benefits—affordable housing, the decrease in density, retail space, the arts center ... with the benefit of a master plan we have a clear idea of what's going to happen," said Mayor Ed Simon. "When I weigh all those benefits against the street vacation, it's a project that merits the city's attention and passage."

Council President Randy Hall cast the lone vote against the proposed planned unit development.

"I think the project is a very good one," he said. "I don't think the value the city gave the developer is equal to the value the developer is giving back to the city. The city is giving 33,000 square feet of right of way. From the developers' end ... they're receiving a huge benefit. Other benefits create value for the developer. We should be able to still negotiate a bargain sale on Lot 3."

The council unanimously approved the preliminary plat, but the development agreement rezone was approved by a vote of 3 to 1, with Councilman Baird Gourlay dissenting.

The development agreement rezone sets the terms for all details of how the site would be developed, including phasing, zoning, densities and setbacks.

"The benefits are there. The long-term master plan is absolutely a benefit to the whole idea, as well as the community housing," Gourlay said. But, "I don't see the immediate benefit to the city."

The final development agreement rezone document still has to be reviewed by the city attorney, then signed by the city and the applicant.

"We need to have a development agreement rezone in final form and approved by both sides," Simon said. "Once that's signed, the city has guarantees the land will be developed (as agreed)."

If any phase isn't completed on time, landscaping requirements kick in so lots won't sit empty.

The development contract runs with the land, binding any future owner or developer to the terms negotiated by the city.

Any structure planned for the PUD must go through a design review approval from the city Planning and Zoning Commission.

The issue of street vacation will be taken up at the council's June 6 meeting.

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