Friday, September 18, 2009

McHanville plan one step closer

Commissioners express favor for granting exemption to hospital

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County leaders are working on a master plan for the McHanville area south of Ketchum. Photo by Mountain Express

Blaine County is on the verge of completing a community housing ordinance for the McHanville and south gateway areas, County Commission Chairman Larry Schoen said.

At a special meeting on Thursday, the commission worked through a number of issues regarding the future zoning of the 90-acre area of partially developed land south of Ketchum, including how the requirements could impact St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center.

The creation of affordable community housing has been a major part of a master plan for the crescent-shaped wedge of land between the hospital and state Highway 75. McHanville also includes the large undeveloped bench west of the hospital in the lower Cold Springs drainage and lands south of the highway traffic signal by the hospital.

Today, the area is a hodgepodge of residential, commercial and light-industrial development, both new and old, as well as large areas of undeveloped ground. Because most of it is zoned residential, many of the existing commercial uses are considered non-conforming. One of the primary ideas guiding the planning process has been to make those uses conforming.

Under the plan being considered, the area would be broken into different zones, some allowing commercial and residential uses, others just residential and some allowing residential and light industrial.

A community housing ordinance would provide incentives, allowing up to 15 units per acre with the stipulation that 15 to 20 percent of the units be restricted as affordable community housing, either for rent or sale. Current zoning allows developers to exceed allowed density—one unit per acre in most of the area—to 10 units with the inclusion of community housing.

Adams said between 600 and 800 housing units are projected for the area, with about 100 dedicated for community housing.

One of the main issues that has cropped up over the process of crafting the ordinance is whether future hospital development would be subject to the same housing requirements as other new developments in the area.

Noting that the hospital provides an important community service, the commissioners indicated they would favor exempting hospital expansion from a housing requirement. County Attorney Tim Graves said the exemption would only apply for expansions directly related to hospital operation, not ancillary operations such as a restaurant.

The commissioners said they would be more comfortable with an exemption for specific uses, rather than creating a special hospital sub-district within the McHanville area. Blaine County Regional Planner Jeff Adams said creating such a zone could lead to a court battle as it could be deemed illegal spot zoning.

The county will continue its public hearing on McHanville zoning at a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 29.

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