Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Warm Springs Ranch moves forward

P&Z, Council continue deliberations on resort

Express Staff Writer

The Ketchum Planning & Zoning Commission will meet at least once more to deliberate on the latest version of the proposed Warm Springs Ranch Resort.

The commission met on Monday as a result of a remand of the plan, deemed necessary by the City Council after the developers, Park City-based DDRM Greatplace, presented a new design last week. The changes called for a potential increase in the square footage of the project's Block 1, which would contain the main hotel, workforce housing units, Warm Springs Restaurant and a number of townhomes.

The commissioners had no problem with the proposed addition of 60,000 square feet of development, half of which would be required due to a miscalculation of the space needed for hallways. The developers are requesting that the remaining 30,000 square feet be designated as "flex space," which could go toward additional meeting space, a spa, a possible kitchen studio for a cooking show starring Mariel Hemingway, or other uses.

As well, there was little concern regarding 70 new parking spaces that were not in the plan seen by the commission in July when it recommended the resort's planned-unit development application for approval. Stan Castleton, CEO of DDRM Greatplace, said the need for additional parking spaces, which would be underground, is due primarily to an increase in the size of the meeting space.

However, the commission got tied up during deliberations over whether the resort, with its latest revisions, is still eligible for the community housing waivers granted by the city. Because this is a planned-unit development application, the city can choose to waive the community-housing requirement if it decides there are enough ancillary benefits to the community.

The plan incorporates about 35,000 square feet of on-site housing for nearly 100 employees, compared to the 44-employee minimum required by city ordinance. As well, Castleton said that as the number of employees could range up to 275, housing subsidies would likely be provided to those not housed on-site.

The commission asked Castleton to provide more information on that possibility by Dec. 16. Normally, city ordinance requires that community housing be provided based on the percentage of a hotel development not used for hotel operations. However, that requirement can be reduced or eliminated under the PUD process. Commission members noted that a major resort has characteristics that present difficulties in its being considered under the same requirements as a hotel.

There was also concern from the public during the meeting about the benefits provided to the town by a project that could be made up largely of-sale condominium units. Castleton insisted that those rooms are similar to traditional hotel rooms, or "hot beds," in that they would be available in the rental pool for most of the year. He said the new St. Regis Hotel in Deer Valley, Utah, scheduled to open next year, is made up completely of that type of unit and will be very much a hotel rather than just a condominium project.

The commission will hold another meeting on Jan. 7 to decide if the city's community-housing waiver is still applicable.

In the meantime, the City Council will continue its public hearings on the project today with a meeting at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood at 5:30 p.m. The meeting will cover the fiscal feasibility of the project with a presentation from the developer's economic consultants. Also on the agenda are the public benefits and recreational amenities offered by the resort.

Development plans call for a five-star hotel, residential units, a restaurant and various amenities on the 77-acre Warm Springs Ranch, northwest of downtown Ketchum. A final decision on the plan is likely to come early next year.

Developer faces legal challenge

Ketchum resident and developer George Tischer has filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against Warm Springs Ranch developer DDRM Greatplace and its CEO Stan Castleton. If successful, it would stop the project's entitlement process with the city of Ketchum.

Tischer was the previous owner of the Warm Springs Ranch property and sold it to Helios Development, which in turn contracted with DDRM to develop the resort. As part of the deal, Tischer retained a future share in the development's profits.

Tischer claims the proposed 11-year build-out of the property would keep him from profiting from the development. As well, the injunction application, filed in San Francisco, states that Tischer was to have input on the development plans of the property and receive a consulting fee of $25,000 per month.

However, DDRM has filed an opposition to the injunction application, stating that there was never a contract that mandated Tischer's inclusion in the development process, and that an injunction would be harmful to the city of Ketchum due to the amount of time spent on the application to date.

This is not the first time Tischer has become involved in a legal imbroglio over the property. In 2003, he tried to sue Sun Valley Ventures for ownership of the property. That legal battle lasted until 2006, and was followed by a quick succession of owners, including the Whitetail Club, which sold it back to Tischer, who then sold it to Helios.

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