Friday, July 18, 2008

Itís legal, itís needed, and itís time

When housing is offered to meet and exceed expectations, somehow we have controversy.

David C. Hutchinson is president of VP Companies.


After weeks of public debate, I feel it is time to set the record straight regarding Thunder Spring, both past and present.

First and foremost, we are proud to be associated with Thunder Spring and all its components, which include Zenergy, Bigwood at Thunder Spring, the Bigwood Grill and the residential units. The courage and vision that Rich Robbins and Wareham Development exhibited in the execution of this project is unparalleled. At a time when we look to attract high-end resort business, Thunder Spring stands out in the Sun Valley area as a crowning achievement. Since 2005, when we took over management of Thunder Spring, we have worked toward taking this distinction to the next level.

The Ketchum Planning & Zoning Commission has unanimously approved Thunder Spring's final phase, the Residences at Thunder Spring, a high-end residence club component that includes 88 high-occupancy bedrooms. This is a hospitality project that Ketchum needs.

In the midst of bringing this new project to fruition, we have attempted to meet all the City requirements and beyond, without asking for a single waiver or variance. We have also offered to go further, by providing additional workforce housing as recommended by the P&Z.

Let us be clear about the original Thunder Spring PUD. Wareham voluntarily mitigated housing impacts in the past, as there was no inclusionary housing ordinance at that time and the framework was a simple negotiation with the City. I know. I was the Council President at the time.

Wareham offered more than any developer had to and never tried to get out of anything. From recreational access to Zenergy for local kids to a $600,000 check to the City to help with housing for Seniors and others, Wareham stood up. At the time that we became involved, Wareham was confident that all agreements had either been fully mitigated or fully released by the City.

Since that time and in conjunction with this new hospitality project, we have tried again to go above and beyond and bridge any outstanding gaps from the past understandings by offering the Bigwood workforce housing that we call Sellgren Place. This very low-density project on property that currently could contain a golf maintenance building or other recreational buildings was received very well by the P&Z, and they unanimously recommended the appropriate approvals to the Council.

In addition to Sellgren Place, we are also providing four employee units in the new Residences at Thunder Spring, although the ordinance does not require the housing to be on-site. By the way, the initial Thunder Spring development agreements never required housing to be on-site, but provided for housing to be allowed off-site or paid in-lieu.

As is typical, the opponents to Sellgren Place insist they embrace housing, but that it is illegal. We asked the City to independently determine the legality well prior to developing our plan, and the answer was and is that it is legal. Although the City has been advised that it is not in the purview of the Council to rule on legality, we are prepared to provide an option that the Council "deems appropriate" in their "full discretionary power," as the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance 998 stipulates for the T-Zone, should a judge disagree with the City Attorney.

As we move forward, it seems that the community has asked for a revitalization of our resort economy and the relative workforce housing necessary to service that economy. In fact, all the elected officials were victorious based solidly on that platform. Yet when a hospitality project is approved without special exceptions and housing is offered to meet and exceed expectations, somehow we have controversy.

With controversy comes misinformation amidst swirling emotion. It has been true of every housing concept or project proposed in Ketchum. The Fields and Pine Ridge were thought by some to be the end of life as we know it here. Was that fear realized? I think not. As a result, the town is woefully behind and needs to hurry to catch up with our mountain resort counterparts.

However, we, as a community, need to have the courage to embrace our workforce and employment base as friends and neighbors in spite of the usual opposition, or this town will continue its decline into the single-purpose second-home retirement community it is becoming.

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