Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ketchum considers plan to attract new hotels

City may soften requirements for affordable housing


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

It comes down to getting hotels or getting more affordable housing, but the two-birds-with-one-stone cliché might not apply to the discussion of getting hoteliers to put their shovels in the ground as soon as possible in Ketchum.

"As a community we've got conflicting priorities," said Ketchum City Councilman Steve Shafran. "We want to stimulate hotel construction, and we want to stimulate construction of affordable housing, and those two things are in conflict. It's a political decision."

The City Council gave an informal stamp of approval Tuesday afternoon to regulations for the city's downtown Community Core zone and Tourist zone that would soften affordable housing requirements for hotel developers who obtain building permits.

"Pulling a permit is ultimately what we want," said Councilman Baird Gourlay. "We want backhoes digging in the ground. Without pulling the building permit, we may be forcing our Planning and Zoning commissioners to be going through a lot of projects that may not come to fruition."

Councilwoman Terry Tracy put it this way: "I think this is sort of a faith-based project, and I have a lot of faith in it. What worries me is that we're doing this in sort of a crisis situation."

More specifically, the softened requirements will apply to "cold beds," or long-term residential units, that are built as part of a hotel development equation. For developments that are to be labeled as hotels, the maximum percentage of long-term residential units will be 25 percent.

The subject of the city's discussion Tuesday was to exempt such units from inclusionary zoning requirements for a predetermined time frame, probably two years, in order to make actual hotel construction more attractive to developers.

Inclusionary zoning would, as with all commercial building construction, require 20 percent of the gross floor area to be provided as affordable housing. It is that requirement that would be exempted for hotel developers who pull building permits.

"What we want to do is encourage people to build, not tread water for years on end," said Councilman Ron Parsons. "It's a leap of faith that's easy for me to get to."

The exemption on inclusionary zoning should not be confused with a separate requirement that hotel developments will be required to mitigate employee housing impacts at a ratio of 30 percent of the total number of employees calculated by a formula of one employee per hotel room or bedroom. Also, the city will require hotel developers to submit employee-housing plans that outline the number of employees and the income categories served by the housing.

"The employee housing plan shall be the basis of the applicant's proposal for a mix of employee housing which addresses the range of employees needed to serve the hotel," according to the draft regulations.

A formal ordinance could be placed before the City Council as early as Nov. 19.




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