Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Warm Springs debate heats up

Council takes first crack at new zoning district

Express Staff Writer

Picturesque views of Bald Mountain are an issue of concern for some residents as the Ketchum City Council deliberates a proposed ordinance that would create a new zoning district in the Warm Springs base area. If approved the new zoning regulations would allow for greater density and building heights in an attempt to attract a hotel or mixed-use development as a means of revitalizing the Warm Springs Village economy. Photo by Willy Cook

Building heights, increased traffic and economic viability.

Once again, those were the concerns voiced by members of the public regarding a proposed new zoning district for the Warm Springs base area, which so far has at least vocal support from the City Council.

After earning a recommendation from the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission last month, it was the council's turn to deliberate the ordinance at its meeting on Monday, April 21.

If approved by the council, the existing pedestrian access overlay district would be replaced by a new zoning district 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.

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 ratio up to 2.25. That means a building on a 1,000-square-foot lot could contain up to 2,250 square feet of floor space.

After a number of meetings, the commission revised the ordinance to include two zones within the district regarding maximum height. As proposed, buildings within 30 feet of Howard Drive 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 but more than 30 feet from Howard Drive, the height limit would rise to five stories and to six on the south side of the street, which is Zone B.

As with the half dozen public hearings held by the commission, members of the public packed into council chambers Monday to comment on the proposal, which is intended to revitalize the neighborhood by attracting a hotel, retail businesses and restaurants.

Once again, detractors cited the fact that a five- or six-story development would not fit in with the character of existing buildings and residences. An underlying issue, though one not specifically mentioned by opponents on Monday, is the fact that views of Bald Mountain could be disrupted for a number of homeowners if a large-scale hotel is constructed.

Opponents also questioned the potential ability of a hotel or mixed-use building to motivate other development, given the dearth of property available for development.

At the moment, Ketchum resident Brian Barsotti's Baldy Base Camp property at the corner of Picabo Street and Skiway Drive is the only piece of vacant land in the area, other than that owned by Sun Valley Co., which will remain a parking lot, at least for the near future.

"I don't know how to express my frustration," Councilman Baird Gourlay said of Sun Valley Co.'s lack of interest in developing its Greyhawk site.

Gourlay said Sun Valley Co. representatives told him the resort currently has too many other areas of focus, such as the Symphony Pavilion, golf/nordic clubhouse and gondola, to look into such a project. As well, Gourlay reported that Sun Valley Co. General Manager Wally Huffman said a new hotel would create a situation in which the resort would be competing with itself for guests.

"We aren't competing with each other," Gourlay said. "We're competing with Vail, Jackson Hole, Telluride and other major resorts."

Sun Valley Co. wasn't the only target of criticism, though, as proponents of the ordinance made their most pointed comments yet about the high proportion of second-home owners in the Warm Springs base neighborhood.

"We keep hearing opposition from people who have homes in the village," said Warm Springs resident Zach Crist, who moved to the Wood River Valley with his parents in 1979. "For the people who are part-time residents, how invested are they? It's disrespectful to the rest of the community to put the kibosh on this."

The area's current Tourist zoning also provided ammunition for those in support of the new district.

"This is a tourist zone in a resort town at the base of a mountain," said Ketchum real estate agent Ginny Warjone, largely in response to a statement from attorney Ed Lawson, representing the Monte Vista subdivision, that a large development would detract from the quality of life and investment of his clients.

The council members agreed that at least one workshop is needed to further delve into the details of the proposed ordinance and that the height now allowed in the text could be revised.

However, the overall tone of the council was one of support for action.

"I guarantee we'll proceed thoughtfully," Mayor Randy Hall said. "This is about what's in the best interest of the entire community, not just the Warm Springs community."

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