Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Warm Springs revitalization debate continues

Little decided at Ketchum city meeting

Express Staff Writer

During a special meeting on Thursday to discuss revitalization of the Warm Springs base area, Ketchum city leaders considered relaxing requirements for parking and residential development, but stiffening those relating to buildings' proximity to Warm springs Creek. However, nothing was decided.

City staff suggested lowering the number of required parking spaces, especially for restaurant and retail developments. The suggestion was in response to concerns that large parking requirements will take away the cost incentives for developers. No set number was decided, but staff will continue to study the issue.

Second, staff presented possible height regulations for developments that lie within the Warm Springs zoning overlay south of Warm Springs Creek. In particular, staff recommended setting a 25-foot buffer zone between the creek and new buildings in addition to a requirement that for every 2 feet of height, the building would have to move back 1 foot from the creek. For instance, a five-story building of about 65 feet would have to be about 57 feet from the creek. In the end, no numbers were set.

Third, staff looked at removing existing caps, which require a building to be part residential and part commercial. Staff presented one example that removed the cap on community housing but left a cap on all other types of spaces (retail/restaurant/market price housing). Since staff's example used a building of 30,000 square feet, council members asked staff to work on models of about 10,000 square feet. Again, no numbers were set.

Height concerns were also a major point of the discussion. Despite the uproar at previous meetings about the possibility of buildings over five stories high, many members of the council and P&Z agreed that true revitalization of the Warm Springs base area demands an increase in building height.

"What is the magic number?" Mayor Randy Hall said. "I believe it's a question of if there is the political will power to get the height we need to get private businesses there."

There was also much talk of moving back to consultant Tom Hudson's design from two years ago. Hudson proposed that the city maintain open space around Warm Springs Creek and create an outdoor recreational area that could be used in winter and summer.

With no conclusions drawn, advocates for developing Warm Springs were less than pleased.

Brian Barsotti, who owns the largest building in the Warm Springs base area and advocated for developing a hotel there two years before said, "the reality today is that we won't get Warm Springs revitalized."

Hall remained more optimistic.

"I cannot be that fatalistic," Hall said. "I think we're going to go back and crunch these numbers. This is complicated, but I'm still hopeful."

The council opted to continue discussions and research with city staff before reconvening for another public hearing.

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