Friday, July 23, 2010

Community-housing plan stumbles

Quail Creek permit may go back to drawing board

Express Staff Writer

A handful of units have been built at Quail Creek but most of the site along state Highway 75 remains vacant. Photo by David N. Seelig

Construction of community housing in the Quail Creek project was hit with another delay Tuesday, as county commissioners ruled the developer's proposed permit amendment could not be approved as written.

"We're basically where we were when we started the application," said Michelle Griffith, executive director of the ARCH Community Housing Trust.

Had the permit amendment been approved, ARCH would have been given just over 2 acres of land on which to build 19 units of community housing.

The original permit charged Clear Creek LLC, the project developers, to build 39 units of community housing at the site south of Ketchum. That would be 30 percent of the total number of units.

The county ordinance under which the permit was originally approved has been modified to reduce the developer's community housing requirements to 20 percent of the total units, or 15 percent if the development complies with the county's master plan for the area.

Compliance with the county's master plan for Ketchum's southern gateway provides certain incentives such as greater square footage and reduced community-housing obligations in exchange for the developer's providing public space.

However, Clear Creek was never issued a master plan planned-unit-development permit, only a community housing planned-unit-development permit, which requires 20 percent community housing and a lower average square footage per unit.

Commissioners ruled on Tuesday that if the developer wishes to gain the benefits of the master plan, a new application must be filed.

Both county Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tim Graves and Commissioner Larry Schoen concluded that under county ordinance, there is no provision for changing a standard community-housing PUD permit to one that complies with the master plan.

"This is a clean interpretation of the code," Schoen said.

In lieu of a new application, the commissioners proposed dropping the application for an amendment and proceeding under the original permit. There is no provision for giving the land to ARCH under that permit.

Another option is to approve the permit amendment under the community-housing PUD. Incentives available under the master plan would not be open to the developer in this case.

Developer George Kirk said that if he were to drop his application for amendment, Clear Creek could not afford to build the community housing required.

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This statement came on the heels of a similar statement made by Robert Kantor, Kirk's development partner, disclosed by Commissioner Tom Bowman at the beginning of the hearing.

"I was out to dinner in Ketchum on June 23 when Bob Kantor approached me and said, 'We really need your help on this—without you, we're facing bankruptcy,'" Bowman said.

"That's probably not verbatim, but that's the essence of what he said," Bowman clarified in a later interview.

As a result of Kantor's statement, Bowman said he could not proceed objectively and recused himself from the hearings.

Kirk expressed frustration with the options that would lower the development's community-housing requirement, saying both would result in delays of months or even years.

"By intent or by unintended consequences, the ordinance has made it impossible for Quail Creek to provide community housing anytime soon," Kirk said. "It's an impossible dilemma."

Kirk indicated during the hearing that if it weren't for the square-footage requirements called for by the community housing PUD permit, this would be the option he'd be most likely to follow.

Even though a permit of this nature would call for 25 rather than 19 community housing units, Kirk said, "I'm OK with that, from the developer's perspective."

This type of permit would limit unit sizes to an average of 1,250 square feet, rather than the almost 1,900 allowed under the master plan.

Tom Bergin, director of county planning and zoning, said that if Kirk wished to proceed with a community housing PUD permit, the process could potentially be completed by March or April 2011.

"Blaine County will do everything it can to make sure this is done in a timely fashion," Schoen said.

Future hearings have been continued to an undetermined date pending a decision regarding which option Clear Creek will pursue.

Katherine Wutz:

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