Friday, October 27, 2006

Council, developers agree: Approval process is broken

?This process is beyond glacial. It?s dead.?

Express Staff Writer

The approval process for development is meant to be exhaustive to ensure due process is followed—and the community is well served—by each new project.

But private developers and city officials are beginning to agree that the process has been so derailed from its previous schedule that it's becoming unfair.

The 10-month-and-counting approval process for a residential project in Ketchum was further lengthened when the City Council remanded a development agreement rezone application back to the Planning and Zoning Commission to "clean it up."

The council's decision Tuesday, Oct. 24, opened the floodgates to criticism over Ketchum's application review system—from inside and out.

Jack Bariteau, representing his interests in Stevenson Ketchum Fund LLC, is hoping for approval for a two-building, 10-unit residential project adjacent to Trail Creek, on the corner of Second Street and Walnut Avenue.

Applications for the project include a partial vacation of First Street, a rezone from General Residential-Low Density to General Residential-High Density, and a design review for a sewer line.

"This gentleman's been here for what, 10 months? That's ridiculous," said Councilman Ron Parsons. "This process if beyond glacial. It's dead."

The P&Z in August determined that the development agreement rezone met the conditions for approval. Two members, however, were absent; one was recused; and one was reluctant to hear the application, citing her inexperience with planning and zoning matters.

"What I'm beating up is the legal end of this," Parsons said. "The P&Z is as good as the guidance they get."

P&Z has yet to go through the design review process. Most applications were put on hold in late summer while the commission combed through zoning and land-use regulations that may need to be changed before Nov. 7, Election Day. Dozens of meetings since August have been dedicated solely to that.

The P&Z recommended approval of the street vacation in July.

Bariteau said the thought of going back to the P&Z for more deliberation was unappealing.

"I'm fearful of how long that can take," he said. "I can't even get out of the P&Z with design review. At the last meeting, we only had two P&Z members. The process is not working. They only got a quarter of the way through the findings."

Attorney Barry Luboviski, representing adjacent property owners, objected to the council's hearing the application because, he said, the P&Z didn't thoroughly review the application and make sure it aligned with approval requirements.

"Procedurally, this application is deficient," he said. He also criticized Bariteau for his part in prolonging the process. But he saved some sympathy for the applicant.

"There's been plenty of stuff going on in all directions," he said. "At the same time, you're design review process is as bad as it's ever been. It really needs to be reworked. Staff work isn't good. P&Z isn't prepared. We're dealing with a moving target all the time, and so is the applicant."

Ketchum resident Render Crayton urged the council to approve Bariteau's applications, and also encouraged it to review the system.

"This process is not only glacial," he said, "it's broken.

Attorney Fritz Haemmerle also spoke against the P&Z's findings on the application.

"The criteria requires you to carefully review all design review standards," he said. "There are 50 findings the P&Z is required to make. They have probably only covered 20."

City Attorney Ben Worst said the cleanest course of action would be sending the matter back to the lower body.

"If there are deficiencies in the process to date, remand the matter back to the Planning and Zoning Commission," he said.

The council voted unanimously to do so.

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