Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tensions flare at housing workshop

CDC working toward final design

Express Staff Writer

Rich Fabiano

While a proposed $8.8 million federally funded affordable housing development in Ketchum may appear to be a win-win situation for all parties involved, it ended up being the source of friction during an informal design workshop Monday.

Northwood Place, a 32-unit rental project proposed by the Ketchum Community Development Corp.'s Affordable Workforce Housing Team, was before the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission for a design discussion in anticipation of a formal design review in April.

If approved, the development will be built 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, meaning that no cost would be borne by the city or its taxpayers.

The P&Z got its first look at initial design during a pre-application design review on Feb. 11 when the CDC's project partner, Allied Pacific Development, presented the development. A pre-application design review is an informal process to provide feedback to the developer before it comes to the city with a final design.

With five three-story buildings, Northwood Place would total just over 32,000 square feet on a 0.84-acre parcel of land, and be comprised of 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. Forty-one percent of the parcel would remain as open space.

As a result of the first meeting, the CDC redesigned the roofline of the buildings, curving the north side of the roofs, while maintaining solar panel arrays on the south side.

Though the commission members unanimously agreed that the design was preferable to the original, sharply angled roof, they asked the CDC to look into providing more storage and covering the 33 proposed parking spaces.

Commission Co-Chairman Rich Fabiano criticized the design for the inclusion of an underground snowmelt system, stating that he would view this negatively during design review.

"Is this the message we're trying to send? Do we want to tell our children that it's okay to heat the earth?" Fabiano asked the design team.

Greg Dunfield, a director with Allied Pacific Development, the development arm of Seattle-based affordable housing consulting company Pacific Housing Advisors, countered that the plans are to power the snowmelt system with a geothermal heat pump, thus adding to the alternative energy applications in the project.

A visibly agitated Michael Carpenter, head of the CDC's Affordable Workforce Housing Team, noted that the P&Z could not legally use snowmelt as a reason to reject a project in design review.

This heated exchange on both sides led Ketchum Community and Economic Development Director Lisa Horowitz to interrupt in an attempt to calm the tension in the room

"I feel like this is a really hostile meeting—can we just bring it down a notch?" Horowitz asked.

Ketchum City Code states that design review is used to "ensure that the general appearance of building design and construction shall be orderly and harmonious with the appearance and character of this neighborhood and the city." While it puts regulations on building heights, bulk and setbacks, it does not give the P&Z the authority to make rulings based on design details such as snowmelt or roof shape.

"I'm concerned about the risks to the city if the commission doesn't keep to the design standards set out in city code," CDC Town Design Team Chairman Dale Bates said in an interview. "If they strongly feel that there should be stone in every project and no snowmelt, they should change the ordinance. The ordinances are there for a reason—to give us guidelines."

However, Bates, a Ketchum architect working on the project plans, said he was happy that the latest design of the buildings was well received and that the clear direction given by the commission would help create a great community housing project.

Fabiano said the project is very important for the community, and needs to be well thought-out and not hurried.

"I appreciate the comments on the design aspects," CDC board President Neil Bradshaw said at the end of the meeting. "It's really important this goes ahead. There will be some imperfections, but the biggest imperfection would be for it not to happen."

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