Friday, May 23, 2008

Affordable-housing project raises hackles

Express Staff Writer

Click to enlarge (PDF) This rendering shows the developer’s idea for Phase 1 of a community housing project connected with Thunder Spring. Located on the east side of state Highway 75, the nine units would be nestled on a strip of land between the Ketchum Cemetery and the southern end of the Bigwood Golf Course. The land was designated as open space as part of the original plat. Courtesy graphic

An affordable-housing project proposed for a spit of land to the south of the Bigwood Golf Course hasn't been on a Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission or City Council meeting agenda since April 10, but that hasn't kept a number of residents from voicing displeasure at the idea.

Throughout May, two council meetings and one commission meeting have begun with public comment in opposition to the proposal by Bigwood at Thunder Spring LLC that would build 15 single-family homes and two duplexes on a narrow, four-acre bench between the cemetery and the golf course.

David Hutchinson, the president of Valley Properties Inc. representing the developers during the application process, said the project would be split into two parts. A nine-unit first phase would be built by the developers of the Residences at Thunder Spring as a delayed substitute for housing commitments made as part of the original Thunder Spring planned-unit development. As well, it would fulfill the balance of the housing requirement not provided onsite at the Residences at Thunder Spring, an approved new project of 24 fractional units scheduled for completion in about two years.

At a special meeting on April 10, the commission recommended approval for subdividing the lot into two sections corresponding to the phasing, a variance to allow the subdivision in an avalanche zone and a rezone of the property from rural to low-density residential.

It is the rezone that has some members of the public up in arms, as the original Thunder Spring plat note mandated that the piece of land in question remain open space in perpetuity, with the one exception being an expansion of the golf course.

"Why was land designated for open space allowed to be subdivided for housing?" asked Bald Mountain Road resident Lee Chubb at a council meeting on May 5. "Do you realize how bad it looks that (former Ketchum Mayor Hutchinson) is being allowed to develop this? It has the appearance of massive impropriety."

Chubb has been one of the only vocal opponents who doesn't live on Stirrup Lane, the closest residential street to the property. He said that while he supports the creation of affordable housing, the question here is the preservation of open space.

In addition, Ketchum resident and business owner Jim Hodge said at the May 19 council meeting that the city should have enforced the original commitment, as well as given better public notice to residents, especially those in the surrounding neighborhood.

However, during the April 10 meeting, the commission members clearly expressed that, in terms of this project, the benefits of community housing outweighed the loss of open land.

"There's no question we have a real need for this, and, personally, I can't think of a better location," said Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commissioner Rich Fabiano.

That sentiment was echoed more recently by interim City Administrator Jim Jaquet.

"Time and circumstances change," Jaquet said during an interview on Thursday, May 22. "This piece of property is relatively isolated from other residential developments. In my opinion, it seems like the perfect place for workforce housing."

Jaquet noted that the size of the property and its sole access from state Highway 75 would mean minimal impact on the town. As for the zoning change, Jaquet said that as the needs of the city change, the codes governing it must do so as well.

"Zoning and land use are dynamic, not static," Jaquet said. "Right now local businesses can't get necessary staffing numbers. This is a sign that we have problems, part of which is that we don't have adequate housing to attract employees."

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