Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sparking life back into Warm Springs?

New zoning regulations pass through Ketchum P&Z

Express Staff Writer

Brian Barsotti

It took six meetings and they faced plenty of public opposition, but new zoning code regulations for the Warm Springs base area have received a positive recommendation from the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission.

At their meeting on Monday, March 24, commission members unanimously voted to favorably pass the new building regulations on to the City Council, with the intention of revitalizing the neighborhood by attracting a hotel, retail businesses and restaurants.

If approved by the council, the existing pedestrian access overlay district would be replaced by a new zoning district encompassed in the area between Howard Drive and the Warm Springs lifts, and Gates Road and Skiway Drive. It would also include a sizable piece of Sun Valley Co. property by extending west to incorporate the Greyhawk parking lot area.

Based on recommendations from design consultant Nore Winter, from Boulder, Colo., the new district would increase a building's maximum allowable density and height.

If developers take advantage of all the incentives provided by the proposed zoning regulations, which include the creation of affordable housing, office space, conference rooms, restaurants and retail shops, they would be able to build with a floor-area ration up to 2.25. This means a building on a 1,000-square-foot lot could contain up to 2,250 square feet of floor space.

As well, the maximum height would increase from three stories to six. However, for the first time during this process, the commission discussed, and subsequently approved, splitting the district into two separate height zones, to lower the visual impact on residents north of the district.

As proposed, buildings within 30 feet of Howard Street would be restricted to a maximum of four floors, with the top floor contained under a sloped roof. On the north side of Picabo Street, the height limit would rise to five stories and to six on the south side of the street.

However, out of the standing-room-only crowd packed into Ketchum City Hall, there were a number of vocal opponents to the new district, again raising concerns about height and traffic.

"The height will be hideous for the neighborhood," said part-time resident Karen Taylor.

Taylor added that attempting to revitalize the area would prove a futile exercise, as the development of River Run and good on-mountain dining make Warm Springs a nonviable option for uses other than residential.

As well, there was a request to wait for a transportation study to be completed before making a decision.

While one member of the audience said that increasing density and height won't ensure economic revitalization, Ketchum-based developer Brian Barsotti said that without a hotel it will be impossible. Barsotti, who owns the Baldy Base Camp property at the corner of Picabo Street and Skiway Drive, said limiting development on his site to five stories would make a hotel project very difficult to pencil out economically.

"We're the only game in town there right now," Barsotti said. "But give us less and you're only making it more difficult."

However, Barsotti added, "It would be possible to do a small hotel as part of a larger one located somewhere else."

That's not good news for those who see a new hotel as the key component to returning Warm Spring to the days when people spent time there after the lifts closed.

While development in the near future is limited due to the dearth of large properties for sale in the area, members of the public, including Barsotti, concurred with the commission that Sun Valley Co. holds the ideal, and currently vacant, location for a large hotel on the current Greyhawk parking lot.

"They could create something incomparable," Barsotti said. "But I've heard from (Sun Valley Co. General Manager Wally Huffman) that (resort owner) Earl Holding just isn't interested."

The City Council will take up the new zoning regulations at its meeting on April 21.

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