Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Working out the details

City Council starts work on Warm Springs development agreement

Express Staff Writer

The Ketchum City Council began working with the developers of the Warm Springs Ranch Resort on a development agreement that will detail obligations to the city as well as set the height and bulk allowed for the core hotel building.

At a meeting Monday, the council spent about two hours with Park City-based developer DDRM Greatplace reviewing the 39-page draft document, highlighting areas that needed further resolution before the council's scheduled vote on March 30.

DDRM plans to build a luxury hotel, townhouses, a restaurant, spa and golf course on the 78-acre Warm Springs Ranch. The master plan for the development was approved last month.

Some of the biggest outstanding issues include payment of fees and contributions to the city. City Parks & Recreation Director Kirk Mason asked when he can expect the $500,000 contribution that will likely be used for construction of tennis courts. DDRM Greatplace CEO Stan Castleton said that will depend on the phasing of the entire development, which won't be decided until the design review process.

Under the draft agreement, DDRM will have 10 years to build the core hotel building, consisting of at least 120 "hot beds," as well as the required workforce housing, a new nine-hole golf course and a new Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant, as well as complete the restoration of Warm Springs Creek.

A permit to begin at least one of those projects will have to be obtained within 30 months of the agreement's approval.

Councilman Larry Helzel said it would be difficult for the city to force the developer to maintain the "industry-acknowledged five-star standards" for the hotel, as those ratings are subjective measures given by companies such as Mobil.

Castleton said there was no way to guarantee a five-star rating, even if a very high level of service is maintained.

"If the level of service declines, it will hurt the entire community, as it will decrease the attractiveness as a destination," Helzel said.

Councilman Baird Gourlay suggested that a definition of the appropriate level of service should be added to the development agreement and DDRM be held to that standard.

Also causing the council concern was language regarding green development practices, which Councilman Charles Conn called "worthless as written" because it didn't include firm commitments to energy reduction.

DDRM attorney Ed Lawson said the details discussed could become an additional standard for the Planning and Zoning Commission to determine during design review.

Councilman Curtis Kemp asked the developer to work with the city attorney to looked into a road planned to access the project along the edge of Bald Mountain, on the northwestern portion of the property. As the road is currently designed, a security gate would be used to keep cars and pedestrians off it during avalanche conditions, as determined by the Fire Department.

However, Kemp said that could make the city liable if someone were injured in an avalanche and the gate hadn't been lowered.

Ketchum Planner Nathan Warren said he would look into the issue with Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle.

The city and the developer also came to an impasse on a real estate transfer fee that, in lieu of creating affordable community housing, would charge 0.5 percent on all for-sale units or lots in the project. The proceeds would go to a city-managed housing fund, netting the city an estimated $3 million when all the units are first sold. The transfer fee would also be imposed on every subsequent re-sale of the properties.

As proposed, the city would match these funds with revenue taken in from the Urban Renewal District, which receives an increment of property taxes that would otherwise go to Blaine County.

However, City Attorney Susan Buxton said the city is not legally allowed to commit the funds, as it would restrict actions of future council members.

Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall said that perhaps the only solution would be to add language that requires a "good faith" effort by the city to match the transfer-fee funds.

A public hearing on the development agreement is scheduled for March 12.

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