Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ketchum P&Z critiques affordable housing project

Solar power system comes into question

Express Staff Writer

Courtesy graphic Preliminary designs for two of the five affordable workforce housing apartment buildings proposed for the north end of the city-owned Park and Ride lot in Ketchum, adjacent to the Wood River Community YMCA. Last month, the Ketchum Community Development Corp. was awarded $8.8 million in federal tax credits to construct the project.

The Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission has asked members of the Ketchum Community Development Corp.'s Affordable Workforce Housing Team to look into making some changes to the design of a proposed 32-unit rental project.

At a pre-application design review on Monday evening, the CDC, with help from project partner Allied Pacific Development, presented the preliminary design of Northwood Place to the commission. A pre-application design review is an informal process to provide feedback to the developer before coming to the city with a final design.

If approved, the development would be located at the north end of the city-owned Park and Ride lot, adjacent to the Wood River Community YMCA. Last month, the CDC was awarded $8.8 million in federal tax credits to construct the project.

Greg Dunfield, a director with Allied Pacific Development, the development arm of Seattle-based affordable housing consulting company Pacific Housing Advisors, was in Ketchum to introduce the project.

With five three-story buildings, Northwood Place would total just over 32,000 square feet on a 0.84-acre parcel of land, and include 12 one-bedroom units, 14 two-bedroom units and six three-bedroom units. Unit sizes would range from 617 to 1,234 square feet and monthly rents are estimated to range from $430 to $1,074.

The project would also include 1,468 square feet of community, office and storage space, and 33 parking spaces, with 41 percent of the parcel remaining as open space.

Dunfield, who will help oversee both the sale of the tax credits to large corporations and the development of the project, said the corporate investors will actually own the property for the first 15 years, after which it will be transferred to the CDC for $1. Because of the conditions stipulated by the tax credit program, the project would have to remain as affordable rental units for at least 44 years.

Dale Bates, a Ketchum architect and head of the CDC's Town Design Team, said the roofs of the buildings would be sharply angled to take advantage of a planned solar panel array that will help power parts of the project, such as a snow-melt system.

"We all know how crucial this (project) is and what an asset it will be to the city," Commissioner Steve Cook said. "However, I wish I liked the design better. I don't think that the solar panels should drive the project."

Commissioner Michael Doty agreed with Cook, saying that while incorporating solar power is "the right thing to do," it shouldn't drive the form of the project, especially with the relatively low cost of power in the valley.

Dunfield disagreed, though, saying that the "days of cheap power are likely numbered," and that he's learned from the numerous other affordable housing projects he's worked on to do whatever possible to lower costs.

Other issues brought up by the commission included the amount of parking and the materials that might be used in construction.

As well, the commission seemed unsure if the project would fit into the rest of the neighborhood. While it would be surrounded on three sides by the YMCA and light industrial buildings, on the opposite side of Saddle Road sit multi-million-dollar townhomes.

With only the federal funding to rely on for construction, Michael Carpenter, chairman of the CDC's Affordable Workforce Housing Team, said there is not a lot of room to alter the design or the materials.

"This is a very tight project that will likely force the community, city and developer to make some compromises," Carpenter said.

As this preliminary design was included in the application for the tax credit program, Carpenter said large changes could put the federal funding in jeopardy.

"I'm extremely afraid that we, as a community, have one shot at this, and if we miss it, we probably won't get another one," Carpenter said. "If we're forced to change it too much, we might hit the trigger that kills the project."

Bates said the project would likely be back before the city for formal design review at the beginning of March.

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