Friday, April 30, 2010

Can middle ground be reached on Tuesday?

Bald Mountain Lodge developers remain intransigent about workforce housing

Express Staff Writer

A birdís-eye view of proposed Bald Mountain Lodge with First Street jutting out to the left and Washington Avenue extending away to the right Photo by

Bald Mountain Lodge developers will resume negotiations with the Ketchum City Council on Tuesday at noon, but one large obstacle still stands in the way of approval—employee housing. It has been the roadblock to a council vote for weeks.

City ordinance requires hotels to provide employee housing for at least 25 percent of their workers, meaning 22 employees in the case of this 87-room hotel with 26 residential units, but developers have repeatedly asserted that housing would be "unfinanceable" on or off site.

"We can work on creative solutions," Councilman Larry Helzel told the developers in early April, "but I wouldn't expect us to waive (the housing requirement)."

Before the council can give the go-ahead, one side is going to have to give.

Mark Goodman, Ketchum associate planner and special projects manager, said in an interview Thursday that city staff had been talking with developers to find common ground before Tuesday's meeting, but "no defined solution" had been reached.

"I'm not clear what direction it's going to go in, quite yet," Goodman said.

He said the outcome of Tuesday's meeting is up in the air. Employee housing could be worked out and the five-story, Main Street hotel approved, or the meeting could end in the same place as the last two, with the housing requirement unsettled.

At the April 8 and 9 meetings, hotel landowner Mike Kerby said financier Wells Fargo wasn't willing to pay for workforce housing because it isn't profitable.

Kerby returned on April 19 with a letter formally telling the council he was not willing to provide any workforce housing. The council said it would be willing to consider a waiver for the requirement if developers committed to a construction start date. Kerby declined and also said the timeline he submitted that day showing him filing for a building permit in June 2011 couldn't be committed to either.

The council offered several other tradeoffs at the April 19 meeting, but developers didn't want to participate and maintained their stance on not wanting to provide any housing. Kerby said he was willing to reach a workforce-housing compromise but didn't make any suggestions of his own. The April 19 meeting ended where it began, in deadlock.

A story about the Tuesday, May 4, noon meeting will appear in the Wednesday, May 5, Idaho Mountain Express if it concludes before the newspaper's deadline.

Trevon Milliard:

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