Friday, October 27, 2006

Sun Valley rejects house size limits

Council also turns down commercial building restrictions and historic district

Express Staff Writer

Sun Valley Resort owners Carol and Earl Holding flank company General Manager Wally Huffman. The three share a rare jovial moment during a generally contentious Sun Valley City Council meeting Thursday. Photo by David N. Seelig

"Don't mess with my right to build a big house!" That was a message that the Sun Valley City Council heard loud and clear on Wednesday from an overflow crowd of angry property owners.

Confronted by almost unanimous public opposition, the council on Thursday morning backed down from a proposed ordinance that would have limited house sizes to 12,000 square feet and increased lot setbacks by 5 feet.

Due to opposition from Sun Valley Co., the council also rejected proposed ordinances that would have tightened standards on commercial development and created a historic district.

The proposals were part of an 11-ordinance package motivated by the possible passage of Proposition 2. But citizens argued, and the council agreed, that the laws were being rushed into enactment.

Mayor Jon Thorson said a goal of the proposed restrictions on residential development was to follow the city's comprehensive plan, which directs it to evaluate mass and scale in all its zones. But residents—at least those who were able to attend a daytime council meeting—said nothing was broken that needed fixing.

"Sun Valley started out in 1936 as a gathering place for successful people," Fairway Road resident Dewayne Briscoe said. "Successful people want their toys in life. They want to go to places where they can enjoy the fruits of their success. We're sending a message worldwide, 'Successful people, we don't want you anymore.'"

Briscoe's statement was greeted with loud applause from the audience.

Councilman Nils Ribi responded that the city had no wish to send such a message, and, in fact, expected to increase property values by protecting residents from out-of-scale development by their neighbors. That and similar statements defending the proposals were met with laughter and derisive comments.

"Nils, give me a break," said real estate agent Dick Fenton.

"A bunch of hooey," said Sun Valley Co. General Manager Wally Huffman.

"I like living in a neighborhood where people are putting piles of money into the surrounding area," said Parker Gulch resident Wayne Willich.

Several people told the council that the proposals, which included more concrete design standards, needed to be tailored to individual neighborhoods. Fenton, representing the Lane Ranch Homeowners' Association, contended that if the proposals were adopted, remaining vacant lots in Lane Ranch "would be built out of scale, with smaller, boxier houses."

Architect Woody Bryant called the more specific standards "silly rules" that would "force odd architecture."

"The greater setbacks are really a hardship on those smaller lots," Bryant added.

Other people said they had bought their land under the assumption that existing zoning laws would continue in effect, and that the rules were suddenly and unfairly being changed to the detriment of their property values. Lane Ranch resident Karen Bohlke said she and her husband were counting on maintaining the value of their property to fund their retirement.

Many comments from the audience criticized the city for not having made more of an effort to solicit public input earlier in the process.

"What I'm hearing is that you folks have made up your minds and you're trying to convince us," said Roger Oconnell. "I haven't heard one comment in support of this ordinance."

Following the council's unanimous defeat of the proposed ordinance on Thursday, council members told Planning and Zoning Commission Chairwoman Joan Lamb that they would like to see the commission revisit the ordnance, but that it needed to be more neighborhood sensitive.

"I've learned and I've listened and let's move forward," Mayor Thorson said.

Thorson also commended staff members for the extraordinary amount of work they put into developing the ordinances.

"They have worked above and beyond the call of duty," he said.

Commercial Zone

In response to emotional appeals by Sun Valley Co. owners Earl and Carol Holding, the council also threw out a proposed ordinance that would have set further restrictions on development in the town's two commercial cores, which are Sun Valley Resort and Elkhorn Village.

"I love Sun Valley," Earl Holding said. "We've done a lot of great things for it and there are a lot more good things we need to do. I don't want to build any giant high rise. I want to build something that everybody in this room will be proud of."

Becky Zimmerman, a design consultant hired by Sun Valley Co., said the proposed ordinance tied the company's ability to be flexible and creative. Her objections included a 64-foot height limit for hotels, a requirement that hotels be built with a stepped-back configuration and limitations on construction of combination hotels and condominiums. If the ordinance is passed, Zimmerman said, "I think you will go down in history as having legislated Sun Valley into stagnation."

City officials clearly stated that it is at Elkhorn, not at Sun Valley, where they are wary of potential inappropriate development. However, they also stated that they would like to have more assurances of what would happen at Sun Valley if the resort is ever sold.

"That ain't going to happen," Huffman told them.

City Attorney Rand Peebles told council members that at some point in the future, they could create two different zones to put more stringent requirements on Elkhorn.

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