Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Will it work for Warm Springs?

New zoning aimed at mixed-use development

Express Staff Writer

"The real question now is if this is enough."

That query was posed by Ketchum resident and developer Brian Barsotti after the Ketchum City Council unanimously approved a new zoning ordinance for the neighborhood surrounding the base of Warm Springs.

At a meeting on Monday, the council waived the required three readings of the ordinance, which was first introduced to the council in April after being recommended by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The ordinance allows greater density and taller buildings in the area bounded by Howard Drive and the Warm Springs lifts, and Gates Road and Skiway Drive. The new district also includes a sizable piece of Sun Valley Co. property by extending west to incorporate the Greyhawk parking lot.

If developers take advantage of all the incentives provided by the new zoning regulations, which reward the creation of affordable housing, office space, conference rooms, restaurants and retail shops, they will be able to build additional space. Permitted floor-area ratio would be increased from 1.6 to 2.25, meaning a building on a 1,000-square-foot lot could contain up to 2,250 square feet of floor space. The current zoning allowing a floor-area ratio of 1.6 applies if workforce housing is included.

As proposed, the district would include two zones regarding maximum height, with buildings within 30 feet of Howard Drive 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.

City Planner Mark Goodman presented a number of final changes, which had been recommended by the council last week. Included was language allowing the city to outline stipulations should any developer taking advantage of the incentives desire to change the preferred uses of the building. For example, the city could require that 25 percent of a project remain as community housing or retail space in the event that the developer wishes to change some of the uses of a project.

As well, a change was made in the setback requirements from Warm Springs Creek, which would be in addition to the existing 25-foot riparian setback. If a building's roof height is over 35 feet, every additional foot must be pushed back another 1.5 feet from the riparian zone. That means that the tallest portion of a 75-foot building would have to be 85 feet from the creek.

However, Barsotti is not certain that the ordinance's incentives will be enough to tempt developers into creating the desired projects.

"We'll find out quickly if it works," said Barsotti, who owns the Baldy Base Camp property at the corner of Picabo Street and Skiway Drive, the only piece of vacant land in the area, other than that owned by Sun Valley Co.

"The financing (for a mixed-use project) will be very difficult in today's market," Barsotti said. "If it doesn't pencil out, we'll have to go in another direction."

That other direction would likely be a residential project, exactly what the council is trying to avoid.

For the moment, though, Barsotti is working with hotel development and management company Columbia Hospitality about a possible project on his parcel.

"I have a concept that I think could work," he said. "But we have to take what is now allowed and come up with a mix that Columbia thinks would be worth the risk."

Barsotti said that a residential component would be an integral part of any project, as the seasonal nature of Warm Springs would make a pure hospitality project impossible.

"Even in winter, there's hardly anyone on the streets down there," Barsotti said. "To revitalize, we really need economies of scale and we can't do it alone."

However, Sun Valley Co. General Manager Wally Huffman made it clear last week that the resort has no plans to develop its property in Warm Springs any time in the near future.

Barsotti said that to truly transform the area, zoning changes would have to provide enough of an incentive for the redevelopment of the Edelweiss condominiums, which sit directly across from the Warm Springs ski lifts.

While that is not likely to happen soon, Barsotti said he may end up asking the city to "tweak" the ordinance to make his project more feasible. Barsotti said that could mean amending the ratio of residential space to hotel rooms.

Councilman Larry Helzel noted that it would take time to see the if the ordinance produces the desired results.

"It's not perfect, but hopefully it creates a framework that attracts development," Helzel said.

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