Friday, June 24, 2005

LI discussion focuses on affordable housing

Express Staff Writer

A first reading of proposed amendments to the Ketchum zoning code elicited comments Monday from the City Council about the value of keeping businesses in the area, and how access to affordable housing plays a part in that.

Proposed changes include allowing market-rate housing, with 33 percent of that to be dedicated to affordable housing, in the city's LI-3 zone of the Light Industrial district.

"We've been looking at the LI zones for over a year now," Planning Director Harold Moniz said Tuesday. "Especially with the scenario with Scott (USA). That really prompted us to accelerate the process."

Expansion of Scott USA, which currently maintains its headquarters on Lewis Street, has necessitated the company to search for a larger office space—in Ketchum or out of the area entirely.

Dave Wilson, owner and president of Ketchum-based Wilson Construction, has presented plans for a structure in the LI-3 zone that he would pursue if the council passes the amendments. The plans include space for Scott USA.

The proposed project also includes nearly 15,000 square feet of community housing, some of which could be reserved for LI employees.

Council members said it's important to keep companies like Scott USA in Ketchum, and providing affordable housing for employees is one way to do that.

"Scott is an institution in this town," said City Council President Randy Hall. "It'd be terrible to lose them."

The Ketchum Planning & Zoning Commission recommended approval of the amendments with the condition that 33 percent of the housing's square footage be deed-restricted units.

"It goes beyond affordable housing," said Councilman Ron Parsons. "I'd like to see Scott stick around and make this their world headquarters."

Moniz said Scott USA has recognized the link between keeping employees and providing affordable housing for them.

"I hope you'll see more employers understand that relationship and become more active in that area," he said.

Michael David, executive director of Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority, told the council that Ketchum currently has 17 deed-restricted units that are owned and four deed-restricted rentals. Additionally, 19 are under construction and another 40 are on the horizon.

"We're starting to see some fruit," Hall said of affordable housing. "It's taken a long time. It's finally starting to turn a corner. We're starting to see some inventory."

Christopher Simms, executive director of Blaine County Citizens For Smart Growth, also threw his support behind the LI-3 changes.

"Smart Growth promotes the idea of mixed uses and that's what this would do," he said.

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