Friday, August 24, 2007

Mayor pitches Craig on housing help

Express Staff Writer

Larry Craig

U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, got an earful on Wednesday from Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall, and Craig was a receptive audience.

Hall gave Craig a tour of the Bavarian Village condominium complex to elicit Craig's help in trying to wrest three of those buildings from their owner, the federal government, which seized the properties from convicted drug dealers. The city and Advocates for Real Community Housing (ARCH) wanted to acquire the dilapidated buildings for use as workforce affordable housing.

The U.S. attorney in Boise and the city have been locked in a stand-off after the feds claimed the city tried to freeze out other bidders when the IRS tried to auction the properties in October 2005. Hall and others have denied this. Craig listened and responded favorably when asked if he could help the city.

In May the city hired well-connected Washington D.C. lobbyist George Nethercutt Jr. to draft a letter that was signed by the Idaho congressional delegation and then sent to U.S. Attorney Alberto Gonzales to try and get the government to negotiate with the city.

"Not yet," Craig responded, when asked if he had received any reply from Gonzales. "Yes, we'll get this solved," he said, when asked if he could help the city. "We may have to move some personalities around," he said, when asked how he might help.

Craig gave no specifics, but Mayor Hall outlined for the senator the difficulties he claimed the city has had in trying to deal with Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Hall in Boise. Mayor Hall mentioned Anthony Hall by name when telling Craig of an April 10, 2007, demand letter from the assistant U.S. attorney asking that the property be marketed immediately.

Craig said the current congressional calls for investigations into Gonzales' firing of nine U.S. attorneys for alleged political reasons was "not in the least" a concern.

Mayor Hall told Craig the government did not disclose that there was a $3.5 million minimum bid, and he claimed the property is worth $1 million less than that.

"They (the U.S. attorney) told us we were trying to impair ... a nationally advertised public auction," Hall said.

"Ahh, that's interesting ... skew the value," Craig answered. "It appears to be a misuse of federal resources."

After the failed auction, the city passed a moratorium in the Tourist zoning district that the government alleged was to block or delay the sale. In July the mayor recalled that the moratorium preceded the Oct. 5, 2005, auction but city records indicate the emergency measure was passed on April 12, 2006. On Wednesday Hall told Craig that the moratorium did not take effect until six months after the auction.

Mayor Hall questioned the need for the April 10 letter from Anthony Hall demanding the city cease its alleged meddling with the process. Craig asked Hall for a copy of that letter.

The U.S. attorney's office in Boise could not be reached for comment on Thursday. Previously the office spokesperson said they did not wish to negotiate the issue in the press.

Mayor Hall told Craig on Wednesday that the moratorium was put in place to solve the affordable housing problem so that average workers could afford to live in Ketchum.

"We didn't just single this out (the Bavarian)," in passing the building moratorium, he said.

"I think it is smart business," Craig said, of the concept of inclusionary housing, which requires developers to set aside a portion of new residential buildings for affordable housing. "You've got the attention of the (Idaho) delegation."

Hall said he simply wanted to have a "rational discussion with high levels of government" over the issue.

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