Wednesday, December 14, 2005

McHanville's future revisited

County seeks to collaborate with cities on planning effort

Express Staff Writer

On the back burner now for three years, a plan to rejuvenate the 9-acre McHanville area near St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center as a gateway to Ketchum and Sun Valley is being infused with new blood and new ideas.

Non-conforming industrial uses have existed in the neighborhood south of Ketchum since 1977, when the property in the county was zoned residential. Efforts to resolve the situation have failed repeatedly.

Representatives from Ketchum and Sun Valley and Blaine County Commission Chairwoman Sarah Michael participated in a meeting Hall Thursday at Ketchum City to discuss how to move forward with the goal of establishing new zoning. The hope is that a regional planning effort would finally enable McHanville and other hospital neighbors to realize the highest and best use of their properties, while simultaneously solving some of the North County's housing issues.

"It's something that I've been hoping would move forward for the last three or four years," Michael said. "Now there is a political will."

A county rezoning proposal of the area that would have allowed further development of "medically related uses" as well as affordable housing in the area fell apart in late 2002. Dissent came from Ketchum officials who said the proposal would have drawn doctors and medically related businesses away from Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue.

However, today, representatives from the cities seem to have a different view of the importance of the hospital neighborhood and see it as less of a threat to business than as a benefit for city growth issues. Hailey-based Citizens for Smart Growth organized the first meeting and another is scheduled for Jan. 11 from 10 a.m. to noon at Sun Valley City Hall.

"We went into the (Dec. 8) meeting identifying issues for the area," said Mark Hofman, Sun Valley's planning director.

He acknowledged the political battles of the past, but said he is hopeful for a more positive outcome this time around. "A lot of us are new. But, we don't want to be handcuffed by the past."

Hofman said Ketchum and Sun Valley are taking a new look at the areas of city impact including McHanville and looking to embrace a regional planning effort where various interests converge. "We're discussing who's going to do what. (The January) meeting is a chance to sit down together and decide. That's where everything will really start. The main point is we're not stepping in to take over as cities. We are meeting in the spirit of cooperation and we have the resources to participate."

Michael said a consultant will be hired to facilitate the planning effort. Hofman said Sun Valley will help financially.

The McHanville area is currently zoned R-4, medium-density residential, but a number of non-conforming uses have existed in the neighborhood for decades.

Some owners hope any future rezone will reflect the previous effort and create a district that favors high-density residential uses and provides for light industrial or limited medically related uses.

"Ultimately we would like to see mixed use," said Doug Niedrich, one of the property owners near the hospital. "Now, as non-conforming uses, nobody can fix up, clean up or improve anything. We want to make it so it's not so ugly. All the cities would like to see some cohesiveness between Blaine County and that whole area."

Michael said a "design charrette," a planning session in which citizens and designers collaborate on an idea, will be developed.

"(It's) regional planning," Michael said. "There needs to be some agreement as to how to redevelop the whole. As a gateway it makes sense."

The 54 acres of undeveloped land under consideration is in the county's Community Housing Overlay District. Currently, there are a number of low-cost trailer homes and about 50 non-conforming duplexes and small apartments in the neighborhood.

Ketchum Mayor-elect Randy Hall said he is very excited to work on the McHanville issue.

"McHanville offers a great opportunity for us to get workforce housing. At the very least, we need no net loss of any housing down there and the owners have already stipulated to that," Hall said. "The non-conforming uses have posed many problems for the landowners. I know the owners are looking to get some uses classified as conforming so they can borrow money to make improvements. We need to help them so they can help us. It's the gateway."

Hall said the planning group will look at about a one-mile radius around the hospital that could see significant redesign.

"For the general area, we want to put together a zone that will create some sort of development that will get us housing and possibly a little commercial," Hall said. He added that in terms of the older debate about allowing medical development in the area and the concern that it could detract from Ketchum's interests, he is willing to look at supporting some medical services near the hospital.

"I have to protect what's in Ketchum's best interest," he said "But, I would hate to see a (great) percentage of (the city's medical services) go down to McHanville."

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