Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Council to take URA helm

Ketchum urban renewal agency to focus on housing and parking

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum City Council members next week will slip into dual roles in two local governmental agencies.

The council approved on April 3 the formation of an urban renewal agency, a governmental body that seeks to revitalize cities by targeting specific projects and encouraging private investment.

"Our focus is affordable housing and parking structures," said City Administrator Ron LeBlanc. "Those are consistent with impacts throughout the city. Affordable housing will take people off the roads. Better parking will help to manage tourist flow and reduce the aggravation factor."

Other issues that will be addressed are public works and streetscape projects, he said.

"It helps us get through the capital improvement plan in a faster time frame," he said.

Although such agencies are ideally independent entities, Ketchum's will be one and the same as the City Council, probably for five years.

LeBlanc said it "makes sense" to have the same people setting the agency's course as are formulating the capital improvement program.

Council members, in their capacity as the urban renewal agency board, are set to meet for the first time on April 17.

"In theory, the URA is supposed to be an independent body from the city," said Ketchum Planning Director Harold Moniz. "At some point in time, the goal is to have them be more independent."

If a council member loses his or her seat or steps down, the term on the board also expires and goes to the replacement, said City Attorney Ben Worst.

A 10-year plan will guide board members' actions and ensure that, when a new board is empanelled, they stay the initial course.

"They can only do those things that (are in) the plan," Moniz said.

Once the agency defines its plan, public hearings will be held to solicit input.

The creation of an urban renewal area is to identify specific areas in need of renewal.

Problems outlined by Idaho law include blight, lack of infrastructure or economic underdevelopment.

City officials cite community housing as a main goal of the URA, calling the lack of affordable living space one of the limiting factors of the city's economic condition.

"Affordable housing is the primary mission," LeBlanc said.

Primary steps for the agency are defining the urban renewal area (also known as the "sending area" because that's where increment taxes come from), targeting revenue allocation areas (or "receiving areas") that get the money, and establishing a plan with specific goals.

The urban renewal area could include downtown Ketchum, including Main Street and alleys, property north of the Ketchum Cemetery on the north side of town, Warm Springs Road and Warm Springs Village at the base of Bald Mountain, and city right of way along the bike path in west Ketchum.

The receiving area of the Urban Renewal Area will change depending on the completion of projects or the addition of new ones.

Projected receiving areas, which must be approved by the agency's board, include downtown, land near the bike path, Bavarian Village and Warm Springs Village.

The map is a "beginning point," LeBlanc said. Projects would come through the Planning & Zoning Commission to ensure they meet design requirements and comply with the city's comprehensive plan.

City staff will also be a part of the urban renewal agency.

LeBlanc will likely be the executive director; Worst will serve as legal counsel; and Moniz will serve as development director.

"Like most start-ups, the beginning is crucial," LeBlanc said. "There'll be a lot of time spent getting this up and running."

Time devoted to the establishment of an urban renewal agency, however, will lessen time that was to have been spent forming a local improvement district, he said.

A new capital improvement program is in the works, outlining prospective projects for fiscal years 2007 to 2012.

"While that's going forward, Tom (Hudson) is picking out certain projects—parking, community housing," LeBlanc said.

Hudson, an economic development consultant under contract with the city to develop a downtown master plan, has been gathering ideas from the public. Many of those ideas will be incorporated into the capital improvement project.

A report with his findings should be ready by June.

This summer, the city hopes to establish a community development corporation. CDCs are nonprofit organizations that help fund housing, economic development and other social services in a community.

The Ketchum City Council will hold a workshop on CDCs April 20.

The CDC, the downtown master plan and the budget for fiscal year 2006-2007 should all be in place by the end of this year, LeBlanc said.

"When you add on top of that the urban renewal agency, that means we go faster to completing all public improvements in the downtown core."

"We're doing this for the right reasons," he added. "We're going to focus on what's right for the community."

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