Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sun Valley bickering torpedoes housing plan

Express Staff Writer

Six months ago, Sun Valley resident Sid Alpert donated his Elkhorn house to the ARCH Community Housing Trust, to be moved to another site. Photo by David N. Seelig

Plans to establish new affordable housing in Sun Valley died on the vine at Thursday's City Council meeting.

Six months ago, Sun Valley resident Sid Alpert donated his Elkhorn house to the ARCH Community Housing Trust, to be moved to another site. Sun Valley Co. agreed to lease a piece of property adjacent to the Sun Valley Horseman's Center to ARCH for $1 a year.

The city said it would foot the $80,000 cost to move the house, with priority for renting it going to city employees.

Michelle Griffith, executive director of ARCH, said Alpert had agreed to contribute $15,000 to the move and that ARCH pay just over $15,000, spread over the next three years, leaving the city with a bill of under $50,000.

Griffith said Alpert informed the city that he needed to get the house off his property quickly to begin construction on a new one.

To spend money in the city's community housing fund, which currently holds about $180,000, the City Council needed to approve a budget amendment. Typically, budget amendments require three readings and a formal public hearing. On Thursday, Willich asked the council to waive the three readings to move the funds in a more timely manner.

But when Councilman Nils Ribi moved to do so, he could not find a second from either Councilwoman Joan Lamb or Councilman Dewayne Briscoe. Councilman Dave Chase was not present at the meeting.

In response, Willich told Griffith to remember Lamb's and Briscoe's decision come next election. Briscoe told Willich his comment was "inappropriate." Willich acknowledged Briscoe's complaint and moved on.

In an interview after the meeting, Briscoe said he was not against affordable housing, but objected to the process.

"This deal was too rushed," he said. "I feel having the three readings is really necessary for our citizens to be really informed of the issues and to come to the council meetings and express their concerns."

Briscoe said his other concern was that there was no lease contract for the council to review.

"We didn't know what was actually going to be voted on," Briscoe said. "It was a blind issue."

Lamb agreed with Briscoe.

"I've been quite consistent in my last year and a half about not voting to waive three readings because it was made a major issue in the elections by certain people running for election," Lamb said. "There is a reason why these statutory regulations exist. It is to slow down the flow of government so that the public has ample time to understand and participate."

Griffith said Alpert now plans to demolish the house to make room for new construction.

She said she was disappointed with the council's decision

"My disappointment is about the manner in which it went forward," she said. "It's one thing to have a debate and disagree and then decide, but that didn't even take place this time."

Griffith said her organization had also looked into moving the house to Ketchum or elsewhere in Blaine County, but that relocation costs would have greatly increased.

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