Friday, September 28, 2007

McHanville plan begins to take shape

?Preferred? alternative calls for higher densities near hospital

Express Staff Writer

Jeff Winston, of Boulder, Colo.-based consulting firm Winston Associates, speaks to a large crowd at Hemingway Elementary School Wednesday night. Winston?s firm was hired by Blaine County to help guide a development planning process for the McHanville and ?South Gate? areas south of Ketchum. On Wednesday, Winston released to the public a preferred development scenario. Photo by David N. Seelig

The 90-acre McHanville and "South Gate" areas along state Highway 75 south of Ketchum could someday have as many as 850 residences under a preferred development scenario floated before the public Wednesday night.

The preliminary plan, released for comment at a meeting at the Hemingway Elementary School gymnasium in Ketchum, covers a large area stretching from St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center all the way south to the Clear Creek industrial area east of state Highway 75. Included in the focus area is the wedge-shaped sliver of land between the hospital and Highway 75 known as McHanville.

The future of the highly visible area, which for now has a mixture of commercial and residential development, has been a topic of vociferous debate for decades. Many advocates of affordable housing say the area could readily accommodate much of the county's need for workforce housing due to it's close proximity to Ketchum and the availability of large areas of undeveloped land.

The future of adjacent areas, including the undeveloped bench area along Cold Springs Road west of the hospital, and the large area between Broadway Run Road and Highway 75 and the intersection next to the hospital and Gimlet Road, was also discussed.

Released Wednesday were preliminary development plans drawn up by Boulder, Colo.-based Winston Associates for both areas. The 850-home figure is somewhat misleading, as it includes about 200 existing residences already developed in the area, Blaine County Regional Planner Jeff Adams said Thursday morning.

Local county and city officials have placed a high level of importance on coming up with a plan to guide development in the area, which is among the first things visitors to the area see as they drive north into Ketchum.

Moderating the meeting was Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen.

Speaking to the crowd at the beginning of the discussion, Schoen said the intent of the process is to bring into conformity areas in and around McHanville that for now do not conform to Blaine County zoning standards. Achieving this will give local landowners better assurance on what the future of the area will be, he said.

Schoen reminded the crowd that the plan presented to them during the meeting is just a start. He said the public's input during the planning process will be used to craft the final preferred development scenario, which the county will then send through the Planning & Zoning and County Commission hearing processes.

"This is open ended," Schoen said.

To help guide the public design process, Blaine County officials hired Jeff Winston of Winston Associates.

Prior to discussing the preferred development scenario his firm has drafted based on information gathered from the public and officials from the count and the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley, Winston went over the original four development scenarios that guided the process.

The options include Scenario A, which would essentially retain existing low-density zoning in the 90-acre area. Under that plan, the McHanville area would retain its residential zoning, the upper bench would remain low-density recreational zoning, and the area south of the Highway 75 intersection would remain commercial and residential zoned.

Alternatively, scenarios B, C and D would include increasing levels of density and mixed-use commercial and residential zoning in the area. The three preliminary scenarios would all include a community park off of Broadway Run, while scenarios C and D would include land set aside for a future elementary school off of Highway 75 just north of where the Clear Creek industrial area now exists.

Winston said the preferred development scenario released this week is most similar to Scenario C.

He said the combined 850 units proposed under the preferred plan would be achieved in part through a sizeable increase in the number of housing units that could be built on the undeveloped bench along Cold Springs Road west of St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center. The bench is about 100 feet above the grade of Highway 75, and is not visible from the thoroughfare. Winston's concept would be a significant change to existing county zoning standards in the bench area, which falls into the county's Recreational Development district.

At the same time, the plan would decrease the allowable density in certain areas between Broadway Run and Highway 75, most notably in areas just north of The Meadows mobile home park.

As for the possibility of building a new elementary school in the Clear Creek area, Winston said that decision would be left for another day.

"It's not as clear if we need another school," he said.

Another significant change proposed under the preferred scenario would decrease the size of the community housing planned-unit-development overlay that exists in the area. The overlay area has been especially controversial for homeowners living east of Broadway Run, Winston said.

"At a minimum, it will be shifted over to Broadway Run," he predicted.

Most alarming for some in the crowd Wednesday night was the average 10 units per acre density across the 90-acre study area.

Among the most vocally outspoken against the plan was Sun Valley Co. General Manager Wally Huffman. Huffman lives in the Broadway Run neighborhood.

Addressing Winston, Huffman asked if there are any similarly sized areas with such high densities anywhere in the Wood River Valley.

"It's incredible to me that we would be looking at those kinds of densities," he said.

The next step in the McHanville-South Gate planning process will likely be a joint workshop between county and Ketchum and Sun Valley officials sometime in October, Adams said.

"We're hoping to keep the ball rolling," he said.

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