Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Quail Creek decision deferred

Commissioners request more time to consider permit amendment


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

The site of the Quail Creek development south of Ketchum is mostly vacant. A handful of units have been built on the east side, above, next to The Meadows mobile-home community. Photo by David N. Seelig

A decision regarding a proposed plan to speed up construction of income-restricted housing at a proposed development south of Ketchum was delayed Tuesday as county commissioners requested more time for deliberation.

The developer, Clear Creek, has applied for an amendment to its planed-unit development permit that would allow it to fulfill its community-housing obligation by giving more than two acres of land at the Quail Creek development to the ARCH Community Housing Trust, which would take responsibility for housing construction.

Clear Creek is also asking the board for an amendment to reduce the number of required community housing units from 39 to 19 of the development's 126 units. That would be the number required by current ordinance, which was amended since Clear Creek obtained its original permit.

The reduction in the number of community housing units proved to be a sticking point with the public. During Tuesday's County Commission meeting, attorney Fritz Haemmerle, representing Joe Scott and Chris Bender of nearby River Rock Road, said his clients were "appalled" by the entire application process, especially by a move that would grant the developer 20 additional market-rate units.

"For God's sake, do not give the developer an increase in market-rate units when they have promised nothing in return," Haemmerle said.

Co-developer George Kirk said that giving the land to ARCH would make the construction of community housing more likely.

"I'm not sure that there are any guarantees that community housing will ever get built" as the situation stands, Kirk said.

Only four units in the Quail Creek development have sold so far, including two single-family homes and two duplexes that were constructed as model homes. Because the construction rate of community housing is linked to the sale rate of market-rate housing, the developer is not yet required to begin construction of community housing. Kirk said that he had offered one of the duplex units as category 4 community housing, but was unable to sell it.

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However, according to ARCH Executive Director Michelle Griffith, Blaine County's demand for affordable housing is high. "Houses in the entire county have come down in price," she said, "but they are just a little bit lower in price. They're still not affordable." She said most of the demand is for housing in income categories lower than 4.

While other houses in the county are standing vacant, Griffith added, the Blaine County Housing Authority placed 10 families in affordable housing last year.

"I don't think there's a Realtor in the valley that sold 10 houses last year," she said.

Transferring the land to ARCH and eliminating the linked rates may allow community housing to go up more quickly, but would not ensure construction. Haemmerle suggested that Clear Creek be held responsible if ARCH cannot fulfill its agreement.

Tracy Dunlap, an attorney representing Ketchum resident Michael Engl, expressed concerns that ARCH may be diverting its resources to meet the developer's obligations.

Griffith said that the fact that the land has been donated greatly improves the possibility of gaining funding from state and federal sources.

"It would divert resources from outside the county, not inside it," she said.

At the end of the meeting, Kirk again warned the board that if it did not vote to amend Clear Creek's permit, construction of community housing may never occur.

"Nothing will be built if it is uneconomic," he said.

Commissioner Larry Schoen moved to continue the hearing at a later date to provide time for board discussion and deliberation. The Quail Creek hearing will continue on Tuesday, June 29, at 1:30 p.m. in the Old Blaine County Courthouse.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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