Friday, May 9, 2008

Finally a vision for McHanville’s future?

Blaine County officials may begin consideration of plan this summer

Express Staff Writer

Drivers commute past the intersection of Broadway Run Road and state Highway 75 early Thursday morning. Blaine County leaders are working on a comprehensive master plan that will guide future residential and commercial development in the area. Photo by David N. Seelig

After decades of debate over what the future holds for 90 acres of partially developed land south of Ketchum called the McHanville and south gateway areas, a picture is finally beginning to emerge.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Blaine County Regional Planner Jeff Adams met with the owners of land in the area during workshops held in Hailey.

The meetings were an outgrowth of a lengthy planning process led by a Boulder, Colo.,-based planning firm hired by the county to develop a new vision for the contentious and highly visible area. The first stage of the process wrapped up last January when Jeff Winston of the Winston Associates planning firm presented a preferred scenario for development in the McHanville and surrounding south gateway areas during a meeting that brought together officials from the county, Sun Valley and Ketchum.

Unlike the existing Residential zoning that covers most of the area, the new plan envisions a mixture of dense residential and commercial uses alongside one another in a more cohesive, community-like way. Guiding development across the large area with its many owners would be an overarching master plan that would, among other things, establish preferred routes for roads, utilities and public open spaces. About 40 entities own properties in the area.

Today, the large area is a hodgepodge of residential, commercial and light-industrial development, both new and old, as well as large areas of undeveloped ground. Because most of it is zoned Residential, many of the existing commercial uses are considered non-conforming. One of the primary ideas guiding the planning process was to make those uses conforming "to give existing landowners a future there," Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen said Thursday.

The 90 acres officials are concentrating on cover the crescent-shaped wedge of land between St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center and the highway, the large undeveloped bench west of the hospital in the lower Cold Springs drainage, and lands south of the highway traffic signal next to the hospital. These latter parcels are located between state Highway 75 and Broadway Run Road.

Another goal of the planning process is to create more attractive incentives for landowners to include affordable housing in their developments. While the area is covered by a Community Housing Planned Unit Development overlay that provides such incentives, they have failed to elicit the interest of would-be developers.

The need to create more incentives has taken on added urgency in the past month after county leaders chose to repeal the county's inclusionary housing ordinance. They came to that decision in light of a recent decision by a judge who declared a similar ordinance in McCall illegal.

So far, only one developer has taken advantage of the existing incentives to create affordable housing in the overlay area. Schoen said the plan is now to leave the community housing overlay in place, but reduce its size considerably. The reconfigured overlay area would no longer cross over to the eastern side of Broadway Run Road where existing homeowners have protested its presence.

The overlay currently allows developers to exceed the density allowed by existing zoning—one unit per acre in most of the area—to 10 units per acre if they build affordable homes. Officials are still working on details of the new incentives, but the initial thought is to allow developers to build 15 units per acre.

The plan would require a third of all structures built, including residential and commercial, to be affordable residential housing units. Schoen said planners hope that by allowing more market-rate units to be built in the smaller overlay area, developers would be able to make developments that include affordable housing pencil.

Affordable housing units created under the incentive program may include a mixture of deed-restricted units whose annual appreciation is capped and units whose purchase is limited to buyers who live and work nearby.

Under the plan being considered, the 90-acre area would be broken into different zones, some allowing commercial and residential uses, others just residential and some allowing residential and light industrial. The entire area would be tied together by a comprehensive transportation plan.

Landowners who own property where the plan envisions parks, roads or other public infrastructure wouldn't lose out because it would provide an equitable way to compensate them. One idea being considered would keep the developable base density of individual properties in place even if the master plan envisions a road crossing through the property.

"They don't lose the density," Adams explained.

Another aspect of the plan would restrict the 15 individual residential or commercial units allowed per acre to a base square footage. For now the idea is to make that number 1,250 square feet for each unit.

Landowners wishing to exceed that number could chose from one of two options. The first would allow them to increase the size of a home or commercial building and thereby decrease the number of units they could build per acre. The second would allow them to exceed the base square footage and still build all 15 units, but in exchange require them to buy into the county's transfer-of-development-rights program.

Keeping homes smaller in a more densely built area near the communities of Ketchum and Sun Valley where many people work is the idea behind the plan's other main priority—keeping the Wood River Valley's workforce closer to their occupations.

"The idea is to create units that are affordable," Adams said.

A final component of the master plan is to keep area development in harmony with neighbors Ketchum and Sun Valley to the north.

Of course all of these ideas are just proposed and nothing has been set in stone.

Along with ongoing participation by landowners in the area—Adams said most have been actively involved throughout the process and are "seeing the potential here"—additional workshops with the general public are planned for sometime in the next month. At those meetings Adams will lay out the county's vision.

Adams said he hopes to have the county Planning and Zoning Commission begin discussing the new master plan later this summer during meetings at which the public will be able to view and comment on the plan.

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