Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Developer makes pitch for 5 stories

Hotel plan not allowed under city ordinances

Express Staff Writer

A five-story hotel on Ketchum?s Main Street is proving to be controversial. ?This community needs to decide whether (five stories) is appropriate or not,? said Ketchum Planning Director Harold Moniz. Graphic courtesy Callison Architects and Bald Mountain LLC.

Developer Steve Burnstead says his proposed Bald Mountain Hotel will offer a significant boost to Ketchum's dwindling inventory of hotel rooms—a factor that is leading to accompanying declines in retail sales, nightlife and downtown vitality in this resort town.

The city of Ketchum has recently amended zoning ordinances in an effort to court such development, but it may not be ready for Burnstead's five-story hotel on Main Street at the city's southern entrance.

One incentive for hotels is increased height, be it through the purchase of transfer of development rights or locating a building on a specific lot designated by the city.

The City Council was set Tuesday night to consider a revamped transfer of development rights system. That program allows owners of smaller scale properties to sell off undeveloped portions, or stories, of their properties to owners in other parts of town. The idea is to trade historic and "heritage" preservation for increased density elsewhere.

But the site on Main Street where Burnstead and his partners seek to build their hotel is not likely to be on the list of parcels where a five-story hotel can be built.

"The City Council has looked at the height issue along Main Street, and they're extremely sensitive to the community that has expressed concern about that corridor," said Planning Director Harold Moniz. "They've taken steps to keep some of the blocks at a smaller scale. Their stance appears to be that they are going to limit height there."

As of Tuesday, Feb. 20, city zoning regulations allow for three floors on that site, Moniz said. A project with 100 percent hotel rooms, as an incentive to hotel development, can build to four stories without buying TDRs. Burnstead is proposing a project with an ownership component, meaning some of the rooms would not be in the general hotel rental pool.

While the city was set to discuss the final TDR map Tuesday—after the Express' deadline—Burnstead has taken his case to the people.

"I realize height is a huge, huge worry," he told a crowd of approximately 55 people at a public presentation Thursday, Feb. 15. "It is unfortunate what you have to have to put in that kind of project."

Although Burnstead last fall submitted designs to the city for a four-story hotel, the newest design shows five floors, the top two of which would be residences.

"This five-story version allows us more rooms with daily use," he said. "Room count is really crucial to making the economics of this project work. The extra level is what makes the project work economically for us."

At its peak, the hotel would be 68 feet, with a 58-foot height on Main Street.

"The risks are very high (to build in this town)," Burnstead said. "Ketchum ... is a pretty sleepy place at night. This is a little bit of a field of dreams."

Burnstead said he and his partners have a major brand-name hotel partner lined up, but he declined to name it.

Many in Thursday's audience were sympathetic to Burnstead's proposal.

"I think you've done a beautiful design," said Ketchum resident Sharon Costa de Beauregard. "I think we desperately need a hotel."

Ketchum resident Dennis Nivens, however, said Burnstead should have known the proposal could be a long shot.

"He bought it knowing what Barsotti failed to get," he said, referring to developer Brian Barsotti's failed attempt to build a hotel on that same site several years ago. "He knew the rules of the game. Now he wants to go up to almost 70 feet. He's asking for an (accommodation) from the city of Ketchum to go to the maximum height."

Moniz said public comment on the preservation of a smaller scale along Main Street dates back to the last comprehensive plan update in 2001.

"The characteristics on Main Street—the Casino block and Iconoclast, the really identifiable properties on Main Street—they wanted to preserve that while still accommodating density and new development that is appropriate," Moniz said. "This community needs to decide whether (five stories) is appropriate or not. In the context of four or five hotels out there (poised for application), is the community willing to give up five stories on that site? I don't know if that would change their opinion."

Even if the council opts to approve the TDR map, prohibiting Burnstead's and others' sites from five-story hotel development, one option exists to amend that.

"We're too far down the road to discuss this in particular. The council needs to pass what's in front of them," Moniz said. But, "if (Burnstead and partners) feel strongly enough that they have public support, they need to come in and ask for a code amendment."

Burnstead hopes he doesn't have to take that route.

"We're optimistic," he said, "and we'll stay that way until we're told otherwise."

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