Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Plans to revive Warm Springs put on fast track

Developer announces letter of intent for major base-area hotel

Express Staff Writer

Rendering courtesy of Brian Barsotti This conceptual drawing for a hotel called the Lodge at Warm Springs was put forth by Ketchum attorney and developer Brian Barsotti last spring. The rendering shows how the lodge might look from Skiway Drive in Warm Springs Village.

The Ketchum City Council wants to move post-haste on plans to revitalize the Warm Springs Village base area, and this could include a major, five-story hotel.

There was little opposition to the proposals during public comment at a Monday, Oct. 1, City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission joint meeting, although a prominent Ketchum attorney was taking notes amid warnings of lawsuits over views that could be impaired by future development. Parking and traffic concerns will have to be carefully considered, the council agreed.

The forum for the discussions was a visual presentation of a massing study of conceptual ideas of what the area might look like with redevelopment. That redevelopment could increase the height and size of buildings while intending to make the area more user-friendly with a "village atmosphere." Nore Winter, president of Boulder, Colo.-based Winter and Co., presented the city-commissioned study to the council, P&Z and a packed house of area residents.

To allow the types of higher buildings suggested in the study, city officials agreed that rezoning the area to allow such buildings was preferred over a zoning tool called a planned unit development, which they said is more discretionary and open to litigation. Contract city planner Lisa Horowitz said previously that the current 35-foot height limit in the area was insufficient to stimulate new development.

"I am encouraged by your willingness to move quickly," said Ketchum attorney and developer Brian Barsotti. He told the council that he has a letter of intent with Columbia Hospitality of Seattle to build a hotel with a minimum of five stories and 150 rooms. Barsotti wants to develop a hotel in the heart of Warm Springs Village on Skiway Drive. His prior plans to build a luxury hotel in downtown Ketchum were not brought to fruition.

Barsotti said Columbia, a hospitality management and consulting company with resorts and conference centers throughout the Pacific Northwest, brought in a "brand operator" during the recent Castle Rock Fire. Columbia and the unidentified hotel operator have to have 150 rooms to make their hotel work, Barsotti said.

"If you shrink the hotel, you shrink the services," he said.

He told the council that any hotel that is built would not have to be five stories "all-across" but could be tiered. He asked for city direction on the matter.

"We have a tremendous opportunity to revise the zoning out there and make something happen," said Ketchum Planning Director Harold Moniz. The council seemed unanimous as it told planners and the audience that they wanted to move quickly.

"Could this happen in this millenium?" asked Councilwoman Terry Tracy.

Councilman Ron Parsons also appeared eager.

"I am not in favor of dragging this out," he said.

Hank Minor, owner of Apple's Bar and Grill in Warm Springs, told the council he believed Barsotti's plans to be "a great conceptual idea."

"We have an opportunity here to do something cool," he said.

Winter concluded his presentation by pointing out something the City Council has heard before.

"The village is under-performing as a base of a major ski area," he said.

More density is needed to attract investment, and that can be achieved with mixed uses, but variation in building height is critical, Winter said. He suggested either rezoning or planned-unit-development options to accomplish revitalization goals.

Horowitz said she could work with Winter to get the proposal in front of the P&Z without dragging things out. She also addressed Councilman Steve Shafran's concerns that those whose views might be blocked by bigger buildings would sue the city.

"We have not, and have never been, able to protect everybody's private view corridor," she said.

Horowitz said she could have a schedule and budget for what needs to happen with the planning process by the council's next meeting with the hope that the planning work can be completed by the end of ski season.

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