Friday, February 22, 2008

City steps closer to affordable housing in River Run

Official support given to CDC feasibility study

Express Staff Writer

This section of Ketchum?s bike path, located just south of River Run Drive, could be redesigned if a proposed affordable housing project is approved. The Ketchum CDC is in the midst of a feasibility study that will determine if the city-owned parcel is appropriate for such a project. Photo by David N. Seelig

Amid the often-discussed dearth of affordable housing in the Wood River Valley, the Ketchum City Council gave its support to a project that could possibly see construction of workforce units within a year.

At their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 19, council members approved an ordinance that identified a piece of city-owned property as a potential site for a "workforce housing demonstration project," and directed the Ketchum Community Development Corp. to conduct a feasibility study for that location.

The parcel is south of Wood River Drive, straddling the bike path behind the Crystal Villa and Pennay's condominium complexes. The former railroad right-of-way was deeded to the city by Union Pacific Corp. and is about 1,300 feet long by 200 feet wide. Councilman Baird Gourlay said the new development would measure around 300 feet by 200 feet. He said it would be located on the east side of the southern end of the lot.

The council's decision came after a meeting in January with the CDC, in which the latter organization presented its conclusion that the site was the most conducive of all city-owned properties for a small project.

"The city has been analyzing all of the properties in its inventory for over a year and this parcel was deemed to be the easiest on which to get a project moving," Economic and Community Development Director Lisa Horowitz said in January. "It wasn't picked out of the blue."

The feasibility study began with a preliminary title report, which Michael Carpenter, chairman of the CDC's Affordable Workforce Housing Team, said came back this week with no identifiable issues.

Carpenter said the project schedule is to complete legal research into the title, engage public comment to judge support, find an architect to start site planning and begin financial analysis.

Like any affordable housing project, Carpenter said, the River Run project will likely face some challenges.

"We hope the neighbors jump on board with the community spirit, but we have no false ideas that this won't come up against some opposition," Carpenter said in an interview.

One likely source of contention is that the project would require a shift in the bike path.

"This could actually be a good thing, as the lot is in a long and straight section of the path," Carpenter said. "It could be good to put some variation in there."

Another potential issue is the location of a water main that runs beneath the proposed site.

"This project is not a forgone conclusion," Ketchum City Attorney Ben Worst said. "It's definitely interesting, but the city is just looking at the legal aspects at the moment."

The feasibility study is part of the CDC's $105,000 contract for services with the city, which will also include design of Phase 2 of the Fourth Street Heritage Corridor, public engagement for the design of the First Street Arts Promenade project and recommendation for a location for a regional transportation hub.

"Our goal is to make sure we do the first one right or even better than right, as it will set the standards for future projects," Carpenter said. "This is a great area for families, so it would likely be skewed to two- and three-bedroom condos."

Carpenter said the categories of housing would depend on cost and sources of funding. He said that if the CDC receives federal funding for the project, the units would be sold to buyers making between 69 and 80 percent of average income in the area.

Without the funding, the range would include those making up to 120 percent of the average, as cost of construction would make the units more expensive.

Carpenter said the CDC will present a number of options to the council, which has the final say on the project.

"We're anxious to get going on the project, but we have to move cautiously at the same time," Carpenter said.

The first public meeting on the issue has yet to be determined.

In other Ketchum news, the City Council adopted a new transfer-of-development-rights ordinance at its Tuesday meeting. While small changes were made from the TDR ordinance passed at the beginning of 2007, one of the major reasons for "restating" the ordinance was to fix an alleged failure to follow due process, City Attorney Ben Worst said.

As well, Worst said state law allows for TDRs to be used to protect historic structures, an issue brought up by attorney Barry Luboviski in an attempt to keep the ordinance from being passed.

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