Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Stalemate lingers in Ketchum hotel review

Developers unwilling to commit to construction timeline

Express Staff Writer

The site for the planned Bald Mountain Lodge on Main Street used to be covered with log cabins and facilities that made up a rustic resort of the same name. Some of the buildings were relocated out of the valley and some were demolished. Photo by Willy Cook

Developers of the proposed Bald Mountain Lodge want the Ketchum City Council to swallow the city's requirement calling for the builders to house 22 employees on or off-site. But they refused at a meeting Monday to give the council anything in return to wash the waiver down.

At the onset of the meeting, developers submitted a letter formally asking for a waiver to the ordinance mandating the Main Street hotel to provide housing for 25 percent of its employees. Developers also provided a timeline showing a building-permit filing in June 2011 for the hotel of 87 rooms on the bottom three floors, 26 residential units on the top two floors and two levels of underground parking.

Mayor Randy Hall said the waiver could be considered if a construction start date were fixed, but landowner Mike Kerby said that would be "irresponsible," and the start date would be determined by the economy. Kerby later said he couldn't be tied to the June 2011 date for a building-permit application, either.

"What was the point of providing that schedule?" asked Lisa Horowitz, the city's director of community and economic development.

Hotel project manager Jim Garrison said the timeline just shows the "chronological" order of events, though the dates are arbitrary.

Horowitz said the city is willing to offer incentives to kick-start construction, but developers aren't doing their part.

"What is the motivation to the city (to waive the housing requirement) if there's no start date or building-permit date?" Horowitz asked.

"(The motivation is) that we're going to make our best efforts," Kerby said. "We have every reason, from a developer standpoint, to build as quickly as we can."

But Councilman Baird Gourlay said that contradicts Kerby's previous statement from two weeks ago that financing is in hand and he's ready to build.

"That sense of urgency is nil because ... there's no commitment on a timeline basis that this thing is going to be built," Gourlay said.

The council spent two hours on Monday trying to accommodate developers' claims that their financier, Wells Fargo, won't cover workforce housing. But developers were resistant to compromises the city offered.

Horowitz proposed that the city relieve builders of half their housing obligation, and hold off on the rest until the hotel is three years into operation, only if a building permit is applied for in 2011 and construction started in 2012. Kerby has said construction would take 22 months.


After three years into hotel operations, the hotel would then pay only half of normal housing in-lieu fees for a project of this size, meaning a bill of $1.3 million.

Developers were still resistant.

Councilman Larry Helzel said he was "mystified" by the developers' unwillingness to commit at the eleventh hour of deliberations, with the go-ahead decision imminent for a conditional-use permit. He said he's willing to look past other inconsistencies in the hotel—such as insufficient setbacks on the fourth and fifth floors from property lines—if developers do something for housing or commit to a construction date.

"We've given you everything else," Helzel said. "I don't know why you can't meet us on this one."

He said the council is just looking for some kind of "definitive gesture" on the developers' part.

"Why wouldn't you do that?" he asked.

The simple answer from Kerby was that he doesn't see a need for housing and doesn't want to be held to a construction-start deadline.

"I'm curious why the city is concerned about the impact of employees," Kerby said.

He said the city already has an abundance of affordable housing sitting empty.

Gourlay responded that if this hotel, Warm Springs Ranch Resort and the 138-acre River Run base village are built, housing will be "gobbled up" quickly.

"We'll really be in a mess," Gourlay said. "We may not have a problem right now, but we will in the future. I guarantee it."

And, Helzel said, the ordinance only requires housing for 25 percent of a hotel's employees.

"That means, in plain English, that you're not housing 75 percent of your employees," Helzel said.

"Aren't workers more important than housing?" Kerby rhetorically asked.

It was a statement he repeated in one form or another throughout the night and in past meetings. He said the city could either have the hotel and the jobs it provides, or worry about housing and get no hotel or jobs.

"I feel like we're sitting here with a gun to our heads," Mayor Hall said.

Council members Nina Jonas and Gourlay suggested the city just set a deadline for a construction start date because the developers aren't giving one. After that, the waiver to all workforce-housing obligations disappears.

But the developers were not receptive to that suggestion either.

"I think it's time for you to come back at us and say, 'This is what we can do,'" Gourlay said.

The council will see if that happens at a follow-up meeting set for Tuesday, May 4, at noon.

Trevon Milliard:

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