Friday, September 25, 2009

BCHA questions St. Luke’s exemption

Hospital could be excluded from future housing requirements

Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County Housing Authority expressed concerns Wednesday about a potential exemption of St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center from affordable community housing requirements in the McHanville area.

At a housing authority board meeting, board member and treasurer Linda Thorson said the hospital should have to do more to mitigate the housing needs of its employees.

"I can't say I subscribe to the thinking that one employer should be given a pass," Thorson said to a number of hospital representatives at the meeting, including hospital CEO Bruce Jensen.

Thorson's comments come after a commission meeting last week that addressed zoning in the McHanville and south gateway areas. Among the issues regarding the future of the 90-acre area of partially developed land south of Ketchum is a requirement for community housing to be created with most new construction. Under the plan being considered, the area would be broken into zones, some allowing commercial and residential uses, others just residential and some allowing residential and light industrial.

A community housing ordinance would allow additional density, to a total of up to 15 units per acre, if 15 to 20 percent of the units built are 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 only 10 units with the inclusion of community housing.

However, the commission expressed favor for the idea of exempting hospital expansion from a housing requirement, as long as the new development was related to the core service.

"The sentiment of the commission is that St. Luke's is an essential part of the public infrastructure, like a school, police or fire station," said hospital planner John Gaeddert at Wednesday's meeting.

Ketchum Councilman Larry Helzel, also in attendance at the meeting, proposed that the housing authority advise the commission on when a new hospital development should be exempted from the housing requirement.

The commission is scheduled to continue its deliberation on the zoning ordinance on Tuesday, Sept. 29.

Jon Duval:

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