Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Affordable-housing debate continues in Ketchum

Proposed regulations called confusing

Express Staff Writer

After a convoluted two-hour public hearing on Monday, Aug. 6, the Ketchum City Council decided to reconsider proposed changes to requirements for affordable housing density requirements in new developments in a small part of the city in West Ketchum zoned General Residential-High Density.

At an Aug. 13 workshop, the council will also consider what fees would be charged to developers in exchange for not including affordable housing in new residential buildings.

The Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission held several meetings to work through new regulations after the zoning was amended in October 2006 and a moratorium on new building was instituted. Monday night several council members and lawyers representing property owners expressed disappointment about the confusion. There was also concern that new applications for building could occur after the moratorium expires on Sept. 6 and the council finalizes regulations.

At issue is what's called floor area ratio, called FAR in planning lingo. An FAR is a building's floor area divided by its lot size and is a rough gage indicating a building's size.

Under the new regulations proposed for the GR-H zone, on an 8,000-square-foot lot, a multi-story building of 11,200 square feet would be allowed a 3,520-square-foot increase from the old regulations, according to city documents. That would be an FAR of 1.4. There would also be adjustments for sites that had groundwater issues and therefore that could not therefore build underground parking.

Ketchum attorney Ed Lawson, representing various homeowner associations and individual property owners in the area, appeared to sum things up.

"There's considerable confusion out there on what's being proposed," he said.

There are problems with the form of the ordinance, Lawson said. His clients "are very concerned about anything that is going to increase the density," he said.

It was not just a parking issue, he said, but also one of open space, noise and city services.

The city's comprehensive plan was "supposed to protect existing neighborhoods." Lawson said. The proposed regulations invite "arbitrary decision making" and invite "somebody not getting due process," he said.

Twin Falls attorney Gary Slette representing five property owners with 10 pieces of property in the zone that could be developed was also concerned. The FAR proposals would "drastically limit what someone can do in the GR-H zone district," he said.

The Bavarian Village condos, consisting of seven buildings, are one of the developable properties in question. The city of Ketchum is working to acquire three of the buildings, owned by the federal government, for affordable workforce housing.

Community housing was being foisted upon a few, and if it were truly a community issue then taxes on bonds should be considered as methods of financing, Slette said.

He called it "an impermissible extraction."

Ketchum City Attorney Ben Worst disagreed.

State law allows for municipalities to provide for public health and safety, and that includes the threat of the loss of low-cost housing for emergency workers.

It's been "vetted in public," said Worst. "This is a legitimate exercise of our police powers."

For seven years the same arguments have been heard, said Mayor Randy Hall. He disagreed that anybody was being singled out to provide affordable housing. "We've got needs. We need to get as much housing and spread that burden out all over."

Referring to an in-lieu fee that developers could pay instead of including affordable housing in their projects, Councilman Steve Shafran responded.

"No good deed goes unpunished," he said, adding that the fee was an accommodation to property owners.

He categorized the opposition to the density requirements as being in two camps. One group does not want to build affordable housing.

"It's about nothing else than 'we don't want to pay,'" he said.

The second group was concerned about aesthetics including height, density and mass, Shafran said.

Councilwoman Terry Tracy said she thought the city was doing a good job in not singling out certain districts for the city's affordable housing plans. She addressed a comment to Lawson.

"I remember when the actual (property) owners represented themselves—I go back that far."

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