Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Candidates discuss Sun Valley's highly prized gateway lands

Express Staff Writer

The pastoral lands along Sun Valley's western entrance, known as the "Gateway," evoked considerable public discussion during review of the city's 2005 Comprehensive Plan Update.

In light of the plan's adoption, several key decisions now loom about the "Gateway Land Use Planning Area"—the area stretching on the north side of Sun Valley Road from Ketchum's city limits to the Saddle Road intersection and the south side of Sun Valley Road from the Red Barn to the Horseman's Center access drive. Also ahead is a decision for a design scheme of the city's five-acre park parcel, located east of Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church.

The upcoming election Tuesday, Nov. 8, will determine to some extent who will make Sun Valley's important land-planning decisions over the next four years.

Five council candidates—two incumbents, Ann Agnew and Kevin Laird, and three challengers, Nils Ribi, Dan Pincetich, and Milt Adam—are vying for two seats on the City Council.

The candidates this week shared their vision for Sun Valley's entrance lands, in relation to the city's comprehensive plan, which includes "land use planning area" maps and narrative that specifically outline future development for six tracts of land primarily owned by Sun Valley Co.

The council approved the update in September with a 3-1 vote in favor of the plan. Agnew voted in favor and Laird dissented.

The updated comprehensive plan essentially serves as the jumping off point for further, in-depth land planning.

Penny Hill development rights

Under the comprehensive plan, the designation of Penny Hill as open space required the city to distribute the 112 units of existing development rights located around the hill to lands elsewhere in the Gateway Land Use Planning Area. The plan permits a 125-unit maximum as medium-density residential development in the entrance lands.

Adam, a political activist who is making his third attempt to gain a seat on the council, believes the city should move development rights out of the area. He proposes a plan to flip development rights from Penny Hill across Saddle Road, to the northwest corner of Sun Valley Road and Saddle Road. He presented the idea to the council this fall.

"Forget about development totally. Do the development on the northwest corner," Adam said.

Pincetich, a former Sun Valley city administrator, also wants to move development rights out of the Gateway, transferring the density from one land use planning area to another.

He proposes to move the density to the land stretching from the Sun Valley Gun Club to the Sun Valley Village core area.

"There is plenty of land in the company to move density away from the Gateway," he said.

As chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission and a member of the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, Ribi voted in favor of recommending that the City Council adopt the comprehensive plan. Throughout the discussions he remained a proponent of open space.

"My first choice would be to see if we could move (the density) entirely out of the land use planing area to another location in the city. If that's not possible, I would propose clustering it into small groups set back as far back as possible from the road and from the view corridors, so that we can provide the greatest possible amount of open space in the Gateway," Ribi said.

Seeking a fifth term of office, Laird stands in support of moving the density away from Penny Hill.

"To me, having density there is not the best place. It has been zoned that way for years and years," Laird said.

In his view, the appropriate location should be determined by Sun Valley Co. and then presented to the city for evaluation.

Asked about transferring density off the site, incumbent candidate Agnew responded, "I can't make that decision right now, because I feel we need some really professional input to look at that scenario. Graphically, it is hard to say what is the best move for the Gateway," she said.

She supports the formation of a steering committee, studying options and working with the community to determine which is the least offensive option.

Five-acre parcel design

Planning for the future of the five acres of open space on the city's western edge is under way. The city acquired the parcel in a land trade with Sun Valley Co. and is moving forward with help from a consultant and citizen committee to define options for the property. Designs will likely come before the public in the spring.

The designs will align with the approved 2005 Comprehensive Plan Update, which articulates general uses for the property. The city designated the front portion of the city's parcel as "public/quasi public" with a park-symbol marking. The plan permits residential uses on the back (northern) side of the public parcel.

Laird envisions a multi-use park that supports youth soccer and cultural events. He does not support housing on the back section of the property.

"Turning the five-acre parcel into a park is high on my priority list," Laird said.

Agnew said a design scheme for the property requires a consultant's advice, intensive study and public input to determine the best use of the property.

"We don't know if we want to develop it as a park or use it as a trade. We don't know the best use," Agnew said.

The approved Gateway Land Use Planning Map provides for a potential land trade of sections of the parcel.

Agnew said she would consider housing, "Only if we could have an improved open space piece by changing the location or configuration."

Ribi said he does not support residential uses on the back section of the parcel.

"I am generally hearing from the citizens that they want (the five-acre parcel) kept open. They prefer uses that we saw this summer, like festivals," Ribi said.

Pincetich said he envisions public uses that involve more than a passive park. He responded that he does not yet support residential uses on the property.

Adam sees a park in the style of Ketchum's Memory Park. His design calls for a casual park with large green areas, clumps of trees, benches, a restroom facility and no housing. Adam said that in 2004 he made a standing commitment to the city to donate $5,000 for trees on the city's property.

"I am pretty well committed to doing something with that property," Adam said.

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