Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Affordable housing plan for Ketchum draws fire

Express Staff Writer

By now, most Wood River Valley residents agree the county needs more affordable housing units. But there seems to be little consensus on where they should go.

That conundrum played out yet again during a Ketchum Planning & Zoning Commission meeting Monday, Dec. 12.

Property owners Jake and Trina Peters made a preliminary request to rezone and develop land in the Kinderhorn subdivision at the east end of Sixth Street, a few blocks from Ketchum City Hall and emergency services stations.

In exchange, the Peterses are offering to build between 4,000 and 6,000 square feet of affordable housing.

"It could be used (as rentals) by emergency personnel, or (we'd prefer) deed-restricted property that we would sell to families that otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to live here," Jake Peters told commissioners. "We would prefer to build something nicer. To sell deed-restricted, that would give us a budget roughly double."

Ed Lawson, an attorney hired by neighbors of the Peterses, argued that development there is inappropriate because of the topography, and that a restriction on the subdivision plat prohibits changes without written permission from other owners.

"I'm here to caution you against investing too much time because there's no likelihood that all property owners would sign the certificate," he said. "This is not the place to buy additional density for affordable housing."

The lot in question lies in the Agricultural and Forestry and Mountain Overlay zones. The Peterses are proposing a zoning change to General Residential-High Density, and want to subdivide it into three lots under a development agreement.

Lot 1 would accommodate the existing house. The quarter-acre Lot 2 would be restricted to a single-family house. Lot 3, .69 acre, could accommodate the affordable housing, possibly three units.

"I can't think of a better place for affordable housing than three blocks from City Hall," said the Peterses' attorney, Barry Luboviski. He argued that other property owners don't have to sign off on the project because they would amend only one lot.

Nils Ribi, a Sun Valley Planning and Zoning commissioner, and Mark Hofman, Sun Valley's planning director, told the Ketchum P&Z they were opposed to the idea because development there would impact the view corridor to the west of Sun Valley Road, which Sun Valley's comprehensive plan seeks to protect.

Subdivision property owner Jill Rubin also spoke out against the idea.

"When you buy a piece of property, there are rules and regulation and stipulations," she said, adding that amending those rules is what caused the affordable housing problem in the first place. "You're ruining the quality of life of those who bought 20 years ago."

Ketchum resident Mickey Garcia rejected that argument.

"I get so sick and tired of hearing that," he said. "NIMBYs are masquerading as quality-of-lifers. We're talking about affordable housing for police, teachers. We're not talking about (people) who bag your groceries. That would really scare people. Change is an evolutionary process. You're going to have to deal with it."

Ketchum P&Z commissioner Greg Strong said not enough people support affordable housing when it's near their property.

"I can't think of any affordable housing proposed that neighbors weren't opposed to," he said. "Rules change all the time in planning and zoning. It's not all for the bad. A lot of it is to protect landowners. Because of all the growth, you have to accommodate it. You can't remain stagnant."

Commissioners said they would wait for Ketchum City Attorney Ben Worst to issue a legal opinion before telling the Peterses how to proceed.

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