Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Bavarian Village talks reopened

Express Staff Writer

Discussions between affordable housing advocates and the U.S. attorney's office regarding the Bavarian Village are back on track and a deal may be within striking distance.

Rebekah Helzel, founder of Advocates for Real Community Housing, or ARCH, placed a winning $2.3 million bid for the Bavarian Village during an October auction.

But before the celebration was complete, contractors working for the IRS told Helzel her bid was $1.2 million shy of the $3.5 million minimum bid. The news angered many in the community, and tensions between the U.S. attorney's office and affordable housing advocates quickly skyrocketed.

"The issue seemed to me to be a bit charged," said Anthony Hall, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the state of Idaho. "It was so charged it was hard to communicate at a comfort level. "It was an awkward situation."

The buildings had been forfeited to the IRS in February 2004, after the owner of the building, Patrick O'Malley Cannon, of Ketchum, was convicted of drug-smuggling charges. The Bavarian Village contains 14 units in three buildings at 106 and 110 Rember Street and 154 Bird Dr. in Ketchum,

Helzel said the dust has since settled and she commended Hall for expressing a desire to work out a deal.

"Things are looking up," Helzel said. "We were at a stalemate there for a while and it looked they would put it back up for bid. But they're open to talking further with us."

Helzel is in the midst of drafting a new proposal for the property but wouldn't comment on what price she'll offer, and Hall wouldn't reveal what price he'd accept.

"I can't talk about specifics because of the nature of the bidding process," he said. "If it was advertised I'd be able to say all of that."

Helzel credited several community leaders, many of whom wrote letters to Hall expressing the need for additional affordable housing in the Wood River Valley, for the recent developments with Hall .

Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall, Ketchum Police Chief Cory Lyman, Ketchum Fire Chief Greg Schwab, St. Luke's Hospital CEO Bruce Jensen, Blaine County School Superintendent Dr. Jim Lewis, Blaine County Commission Chair Sarah Michael, Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson, and Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Carol Waller all wrote letters to Hall.

"I have to credit the people who are getting together in the community and speaking with one voice," Hall said. "It's always helpful to have people like-minded and open, courteous and fair. And I feel like I have to agree with Rebekah's assessment—everyone is on the same page."

Hall said he did not know how long it would take to make a decision on Heltzel's proposal. He added that if the deal falls through, the Bavarian Village will likely be placed back on the auction block.

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