Friday, February 13, 2009

Warm Springs Ranch debate still heated

Public continues to argue size vs. economics to council


By JON DUVAL
Express Staff Writer

Warm Springs resident Lee Chubb once again asked the council on Thursday night to consider the impact such a large building would have on the surrounding residential neighborhood. Photo by David N. Seelig

It may seem unbelievable to those who have attended the numerous public hearings, work sessions and informal community meetings over the past year and a half, but a final decision on the proposed Warm Springs Ranch Resort could be at hand.

After two hours of public testimony at a special meeting Wednesday, the Ketchum City Council was set to commence deliberations on the luxury hotel project last night, with the intention of approving or denying the planned-unit development application.

The public hearing followed a second recommendation for approval from the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission, made last month after the council remanded the issue in the wake of a requested size increase by the developer, Park City-based DDRM Greatplace.

The commission, which originally gave the application a positive recommendation in July, did not find the 60,000-square-foot increase reason to deny the application, especially in light of a proposal to use a real estate transfer fee to help fund affordable community housing in the city.

Wednesday's public hearing once again featured impassioned comments from both sides of the issue, with many Warm Springs residents speaking against the scale of the hotel.

In its latest design, the resort's core hotel would include nine floors, one of which would be a parking level completely underground, and a height of 93 feet.

With the 30,000 extra square feet for circulation space and a 5 percent increase for "flex space," which would translate into another 30,000 square feet that could be used largely at the developer's discretion, the project's Block 1 would total 620,146 square feet. This part of the property would contain the 538,151-square-foot hotel, townhomes, workforce housing and the Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant.

The entire resort would also include restaurants, workforce housing for 93 employees, a spa, event house, nine-hole golf course, villas and estate lots. It is proposed for the 78-acre Warm Springs Ranch northwest of downtown Ketchum.

Warm Springs resident Lee Chubb, who has been a vocal opponent of the scale of the resort throughout the application process, contended that the design is not in harmony with the surrounding neighborhood, violating one of the city's standards for approving a planned-unit development application.

"I drive by there every day and think about crying," a visibly emotional Chubb said to the council. "The people who support this stand to profit from it and most of them don't live here."

Fellow Warm Springs resident Buddy Paul argued that people are attracted to Ketchum because it's different from other resorts, and that the project is an imitation of developments at Utah's ski resorts.

Meanwhile, supporters of the project argued for the economic benefit it would bring to the Wood River Valley, both from construction spending and a long-term increase in tourism.

DDRM Greatplace CEO Stan Castleton has estimated that the 15 years after completion would garner the city $36.3 million in taxes and fees and $389 million in new retail sales from hotel guests and resort residents.

Castleton's real estate transfer fee, which would charge 0.5 percent on all for-sale units or lots in the project, could net the city $3 million. The transfer fee would also be imposed on every subsequent re-sale of the properties.

Those fees, with matching funds to be provided by the city, will go toward construction of community housing. State law permits property-tax revenue that would otherwise all go to Blaine County to be diverted to the city as a result of its creation of an urban renewal district, where the community housing would be located. Richard Caplan, economic consultant for the city, said the city's share of property tax revenue could total $13 million during the first 10 years of the project.

Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Carol Waller said potential customers aren't coming to the Wood River Valley because there is no five-star hotel here.

In addition to increasing tourism in Ketchum, other proponents said the resort would provide jobs and make Ketchum more attractive to 20- to 40-year-olds.

"What I call 'last settlers syndrome' won't work if we want to create vitality here," said Erin Kelso, who lives directly across Warm Springs Road from the proposed hotel's location.

As the meeting entered into its fourth hour, the council asked a few questions of the applicant, including a request to provide more details on the phasing and initial costs of the project. While Castleton has said he would like to break ground on the hotel by 2011 or 2012, that date could change due to the economic downturn.

If the council does approve the project, it will hold a work session to go over the development agreement on March 2 and a public hearing on the agreement on March 16.

The development agreement would set out the exact impact fees owed by the developer, as well as a phasing schedule and other details regarding construction.

Jon Duval: jduval@mtexpress.com




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