Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sun Valley approves comp plan amendments

Move lifts moratorium and paves way for symphony and performing arts center

Express Staff Writer

The Sun Valley City Council has reason to cheer, and several did Thursday, April 19, after unanimously approving the ordinances amending the City of Sun Valley 2005 Comprehensive Plan Update.

The action lifts a nearly year-long interim moratorium on new development in the commercial center districts, a move that will allow for construction of Sun Valley Co.'s performing arts and symphony center.

The comprehensive plan amendments allow performing arts and symphony centers and hotels to apply for master plan developments, design review and other necessary permits prior to approval of a Land Use Planning Area master plan. In other words, the performing arts and symphony center approval will be site specific. Prior to the amendments such a project would have required a master plan approval for the entirety of Sun Valley Co.'s land.

"The symphony is of such a universal benefit to the community ... that we will allow them (Sun Valley Co.) to apply for master plan criteria just for that property," said Mark Hofman, community development director for the city of Sun Valley.

Hofman said he expects to see the application process for the performing arts and symphony center to begin in the next few weeks, and it could be open next year.

The amendment offers the same criteria to potential hotels, and although there are currently no applications for additional hotels at Sun Valley Resort, Hofman said one or two are anticipated.

"We're looking for at least one hotel, possibly two, with 300 rooms total," Hofman said. As it stands one of the hotels is slated to be built by the lake on the resort, and the other would be located near its center near the existing parking lot.

The comprehensive plan amendments cover a lot of ground, but the thrust of council debate centered on two main sections: workforce housing and renewable energy.

Workforce housing refers to affordable living units designed to provide housing for those with low to moderate incomes.

Last week's discussions focused on where to allow workforce housing in relation to an actual job site. The city defined on-site to be within the city limits of Sun Valley or in an area agreed on by the City Council, said Mayor Jon Thorson.

In April 2005, the city adopted legislation that called on each developer to build workforce housing units that equate to 15 percent of the total square footage of a project. If the required housing is located offsite, in the south county for example, the developer would be required to provide 50 percent more deed restricted units. This means if four units were called for, but the units are located offsite, six units are then required.

The thrust of the renewable energy discussions focused on snowmelt systems that remove snow and ice by heating the ground surface. Such devices are critical to areas of Sun Valley Co. where foot-traffic is high. Initially, the ordinance required snowmelt systems be powered by renewable energy but wording changed, and the final ordinance recommends renewable energy use.

Concerns were voiced by two council members and representatives of Design Workshop, the land planning firm representing Sun Valley Co.

Costs and the viability of such systems at Sun Valley's high altitude are unproven, said Councilwoman Ann Agnew

"Just because the technology is available doesn't mean it is feasible," said Geoffrey Gerring of Design Workshop.

"There has been huge improvements in the boilers (standard method of heating pavers) and energy use has declined," Agnew said. "I would like us to require something that is feasible."

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