Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Community housing remains issue for Ketchum Lodge

P&Z looking for compromise in hotel project

Express Staff Writer

Krystal England, representing Centurion Partners, the developers of the Ketchum Lodge, gives an overview of the mixed-use project to the Ketchum Planning & Zoning Commission and members of the public at a meeting on Monday, March 31. The development would be located across from the Ketchum Post Office on Second Avenue on the Simplot lot. Photo by Willy Cook

If approved, the Ketchum Lodge could create the first community housing development in downtown Ketchum. But first, the developer and city must come to an agreement on exactly how much community housing is enough.

At a special meeting on Monday, March 31, the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission listened to a community housing proposal from Centurion Partners, the Newport Beach, Calif.-based development firm proposing the 173,000-square-foot project.

The mixed-use hotel would be on the Simplot lot directly across from the Ketchum Post Office on Second Avenue and include 70 hotel rooms, 26 fractional- and whole-ownership units, as well as a spa, restaurant, retail space and a central public plaza.

The development would be adjacent to the planned Sun Valley Center for the Arts building, which would sit at the northeast corner of the lot.

The housing issue for the project has been complicated by requirements set out in the original planned-unit development agreement for the Simplot lot and the city's recently approved ordinance waiving the community housing requirement for hotels that apply for a building permit by 2010.

According to Ketchum Community and Economic Development Director Lisa Horowitz, however, the preexisting conditions of the PUD, which called for 15,000 square feet of community housing, should take precedence.

The PUD requirement was largely the result of the city's decision to vacate 33,000 square feet of property, which extended down from Fifth Street and bisected the Simplot lot, with the consideration that the master plan and PUD of the lot would benefit Ketchum.

However, on Monday, Krystal England, representing the developer, proposed 7,500 square feet of community housing, which includes the 2,500 square feet required of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts project.

As well, the applicant proposes to provide employee housing for up to 48 of its 133 workers, which is above the city requirement of 25 percent.

While commission members appreciated that effort to include on-site housing for so many employees, which would take up 10,350 square feet according to the most recent design, they also made clear that it was not satisfactory.

"I applaud the developer on providing more workforce housing than required," Commissioner Michael Doty said. "However, we're at half of what was originally negotiated for community housing."

By the end of the meeting, Dick Fenton, the local point man for Centurion Partners, came to an agreement with the commission to use 10,000 square feet of community housing as a starting point for further negotiations.

That figure, however, does not include the 2,500 square feet required of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, which has already passed through the city's design review and is now raising funds for its project.

While there are surely a number of issues yet to arise with the Ketchum Lodge project, as it is still in pre-application design-review stage, one that was touched upon at the meeting was the planned housing income categories.

The applicant proposed half the community housing designated at an average of category five, between 100 and 120 percent of Blaine County's median income, and half at an average of category eight, between 160 and 180 percent of the area median income.

The inclusion of higher-income-category housing concerned commission members, as well as Jim Fackrell, executive director of the Blaine County Housing Authority.

"We want the housing to be there and consumed, not sitting vacant," Commissioner Sam Williams said.

Fenton proposed a solution—to include a sunset clause with the higher category housing so that if the units do not sell within a certain time frame, the prices would be reduced to accommodate a lower-income housing applicant.

The overall reaction to the project was favorable, as evidenced from the public comment, which included Ketchum-based developer Brian Barsotti.

"I think it would be a great addition to the neighborhood," said Barsotti, who lives in nearby west Ketchum. "I'd be able to walk to get a cocktail at night."

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