Wednesday, November 26, 2008

County eyes South Gateway’s future

Overhaul of county zoning rules would add new incentives to build affordable housing


By JASON KAUFFMAN
Express Staff Writer

Blaine County has begun its consideration of zoning amendments meant to encourage construction of new affordable housing south of Ketchum.

The changes could bring to fruition a long-held goal of many a local elected official: housing the Wood River Valley's workforce closer to Ketchum and Sun Valley.

Before a packed house last Thursday, county Regional Planner Jeff Adams presented a list of proposed zoning changes to the county Planning and Zoning Commission. The P&Z will resume its consideration of the new rules on Thursday, Dec. 4, at 6:30 p.m.

The County Commission will have the ultimate say on the new rules.

It's been a long time coming. Developed over the past several years with the help of county and city leaders, consultants and hundreds of local residents, the proposed rules comprise a new set of ideas for creating housing in the South Gateway, or McHanville, area. Those names refer to an assortment of undeveloped and partially developed lands that wrap around the south, west and east sides of St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center.

The changes would modify the section of the county zoning ordinance that governs the area's existing community housing overlay district. The size of the overlay district would be decreased substantially because much of the existing overlay district falls into steep, undevelopable lands west of state Highway 75 or lands east of Broadway Run Road that have already been developed with high-end homes.

However, it would create stronger incentives for developers to include affordable housing in their development plans.

Allowable density would be increased in certain areas within the district for developments that include affordable housing.

Developments that provide a higher percentage of affordable units would be permitted more total units.

Other changes would allow for expedited review of projects in the overlay district and create a master plan to guide layout of roads and other infrastructure inside the district.

But as extensive as the changes are, two local developers hope the county will agree to add one more amendment. Bob Kantor and George Kirk, the developers of Quail Creek, the largest community-housing-specific development ever approved in the county, have suggested an amendment that broadens the ways a developer can satisfy the district's affordable housing incentives.

Quail Creek, located two miles south of Ketchum inside the community housing overlay district, is slated to include 87 free-market units and 39 affordable housing units. It was approved by the County Commission but has been appealed in court.

Kantor's and Kirk's proposal would give the county more flexibility to accept donations of land in lieu of creating affordable housing units. The two developers hope to donate three acres to ARCH Community Housing Trust and Habitat for Humanity for construction of up to 24 affordable housing units.

That would take the place of the original 39 units spelled out in the first development plan, which Kantor said isn't economically feasible.

"It would never get done," he said.

Adams said that for such an alternative to work, lands donated for affordable housing under the developers' plan would need to be equal in value to the affordable housing that would have been created. He said the P&Z may take up the developers' proposal in a separate, expedited manner to get it to the County Commission sooner.

Should that happen, and the commissioners ultimately approve the land donation alternative, Kantor believes ARCH and Habitat for Humanity may be able to begin constructing affordable housing as soon as next spring.

"We've been at this too long," he said of Quail Creek. "We need to get this done."




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