Friday, April 20, 2007

Council ponders Warm Springs planning

Master planning process could reveal results in next month

Express Staff Writer

Warm Springs Village is targeted by a master planning process that aims to revitalize what could be one of the most underdeveloped ski area bases in the ?Western world,? according to Ketchum Community Development Corporation Executive Director Tom Hudson. Photo by Greg Stahl

A measure designed to release most of Ketchum's Tourist zone from a yearlong moratorium and simultaneously give Warm Springs business a shot in the arm met resistance at Ketchum City Hall this week.

A partial council—Mayor Randy Hall and Councilwoman Terry Tracy were absent—discussed the measure's philosophical benefits and repercussions on Monday, April 16.

"The whole purpose of this ordinance is to be able to lift the moratorium in the T zone," said Councilman Steve Shafran. "Then we've got this whole issue of a Warm Springs master plan process out there. I would be reluctant to say anything definitive about what I'd want to see happen or not happen out there outside the master planning process."

The measure was given unanimous approval by the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission in March. More specifically, the P&Z's approval was a recommendation to the City Council to enact a requirement that new commercial buildings in a 10.2-acre area of the village are built with retail or hotel amenities on their ground floors.

"The purpose is to put restrictions around the base area while we're working on the Warm Springs Master Plan," said Ketchum Planning Director Harold Moniz.

The city kicked off the master planning process at a Feb. 28 meeting at Warm Springs Lodge, where 170 people packed the timbered structure. A draft master plan should be available for public review in four to six weeks.

"It may be one of the most underdeveloped ski bases in the United States—maybe the Western world," said Tom Hudson, executive director of the Ketchum Community Development Corporation.

The area in question, called the Pedestrian Access Overlay District, was designated in 1989 to ensure that parking and vehicles did not dominate the "vibrancy and pedestrian nature" of the base area. But Warm Springs is hardly vibrant, and pedestrians can be difficult to come by.

Ketchum attorney and developer Brian Barsotti is a significant property owner in Warm Springs. He owns the Baldy Base Camp building and the commercial building containing Apple's Bar & Grill.

"The only person to build commercial property in Warm Springs in the last 30 years is me," he said.

Barsotti is concocting plans to build a five-story hotel there, and he pointed out that requiring retail space on the ground floors of buildings will hardly accomplish much if there aren't hotel beds—and people—to feed business.

Rents at the Baldy Base Camp building are half what they were in 1987, Barsotti said. Half of the space is still empty, "and there's no demand."

"Warm Springs has not one thing open after 5 p.m. It's not a real village," he said. "Without more retail out there, it really is questionable whether that area will come alive."

The overall plan at Warm Springs involves Sun Valley Co., the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation and The Water Co. There is also potential for developing geothermal water resources in the area.

The Ski Education Foundation hopes to expand its operations by creating a nationally recognized winter sports education and training institute on Sun Valley Co. property. Additional work will focus on Picabo Street and Sun Valley Co. land on the south side of Warm Springs Creek.

Other ideas include a track and field arena, which could be flooded in a the winter to make an ice rink, space for ultimate Frisbee, year-round dorms for students, youth or elder hostels for low-cost visitor accommodations, enhanced retail space, a plaza and river walk.

Shafran said he sees no need to circumvent the master planning process with an attempted short-term fix.

"We're not in a position to, in a four-week turn around, create any kind of definitive flexibility that's going to be very useful. I don't see where we're going. I think it would be a mistake."

Councilman Ron Parsons played devil's advocate.

"Is there a problem philosophically with us saying this area is good for hotels?" he asked.

Shafran said the master planning process should decide.

"The way to get that ball rolling is through this master plan process," he said. "I think we use that."

Barsotti said he'd rather the process be done properly, but added that he wants to move as soon as possible with his planning.

"In the pedestrian overlay zone, at some point you make a statement that this is an appropriate place for five stories," Barsotti said.

But Shafran pointed out the city went through that process with the downtown master plan, and people were ultimately confused about where additional height could be appropriate for hotels. The city would be wise, he said, to move forward carefully with the master planning process in Warm Springs, and that should empower local citizens.

"I do not want to have misunderstandings again about where we do and do not want five stories," he said. "I think we should deal with hotels and height in the same way we did in the downtown master plan."

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