Wednesday, December 9, 2009

P&Z moves Bald Mountain Lodge forward

Hotel receives needed waivers; City Council is next

Express Staff Writer

The Ketchum P&Z has endorsed plans for a five-story hotel on Main Street, called the Bald Mountain Lodge. This view is from the west; Washington Avenue is in the foreground. Courtesy graphic

The proposed Bald Mountain Lodge—planned to be the first five-story building in Ketchum's commercial core—was approved by the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday despite concern over waivers requested by developers.

Four out of five commissioners approved the half dozen exceptions needed for the project to meet city code and thereby receive the P&Z's recommendation to grant a conditional-use permit.

The City Council will decide in January if it wants to accept that recommendation. After that, developers will have four years to apply for a building permit and start construction. The usual window is a year, but developers asked for five years, citing the economy's impact on obtaining financing. The P&Z came to a compromise of four years.

Developers say construction would take 22 months.

Commissioner Steve Cook voted in favor of the project and for granting the waivers, but said he still felt uneasy about turning his back on normal development requirements.

"It's a struggle because the applicant has come so far," he said of the project, which was first presented in January. "The longer this goes on, the more I grow uncomfortable with it."

None of the waivers had to do with the building's proposed 68-foot-tall stature. Ketchum allows five-story hotels with a maximum height of 68 feet, but requires City Council approval for all buildings taller than 48 feet.

"The way I look at it, we're 90 percent there," said project manager Jim Garrison, adding that the project doesn't need height waivers or annexation into the city—like some other hotels—and it's completely designed.

The proposed hotel would include 87 hotel rooms, a full-service restaurant, reception and lobby areas, a spa, activity center, retail space, ballroom, meeting and conference room space, 26 residential units on floors four and five, and two levels of underground parking. The proposed building has five floors above grade and would total about 231,400 square feet, including the underground parking. It would occupy an entire city block on Main Street, between River and First streets.

But the hotel still needs waivers. Most have to do with little things such as awning lengths, but the P&Z expressed apprehension about granting one in particular. It has to do with setbacks of the fourth and fifth floors, a requirement designed to make tall buildings seem smaller and in step with their neighbors.

Bald Mountain Lodge would be 24 feet taller than its neighbor, the US Bank building directly to the north.

Ketchum requires fourth and fifth floors bordering streets to be set back from the property line a minimum of 10 feet, with an average of 15 feet. That's intended to prevent looking up at a five-story wall extending straight up from the edge of the sidewalk.

The first three floors of Bald Mountain Lodge would meet the property line, and designs already plan for the fourth and fifth floors to step back. But developers are only setting back the top two floors by 8 feet on River and First streets, with balconies jutting out here and there. On Main Street, the top two floors would be set back 12 feet, but would also have structures coming closer to the property line. The Washington Avenue side is mostly open space where an outdoor pool would be placed.

In the end, the P&Z allowed the less-than-preferred setbacks, but Commissioner Michael Doty was the lone member to stick to the usual requirements. He voted against granting the waiver and thereby also against moving the project forward altogether.

"It still seems very tall," he said.

The other commissioners said they didn't feel the issue was serious enough to stall the project. But workforce housing was a tipping point, especially since Bald Mountain Lodge developers are required to provide 25 workforce-housing units on or off site and haven't planned for a single one.

"There's an inability to finance that in the current (economic) conditions," Garrison said, adding that some alternative could be met, such as in-lieu fees. "Do we have a solution for it tonight? No."

Garrison said Thursday that he's open to discussing how the workforce-housing requirement would be met but didn't want to hastily "guarantee on having an X number of housing units by an X date."

P&Z members said developers' intentions would be enough for now, but they'll need to provide a plan within four years before applying for a building permit. Otherwise, the plan dies.

"You understand what we're doing—we're trying to bring our workers back," said Commissioner Rich Fabiano, adding that 70 percent of Ketchum's residents are second-home owners.

The P&Z must now delve deeper into the project and approve its design, looking at minutiae such as building materials and room layouts.

Design review can also be a slow process, seeing that this five-story hotel is the first of its kind. All five commissioners, as well as city staff, have said they want to ensure it's done right.

"Code allows for a five-story hotel," said Community and Economic Development Director Lisa Horowitz, "but it's tough because this is the first one."

Trevon Milliard:

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