Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ketchum P&Z offers praise, suggestions for affordable housing project

Skeptics call for more parking and some retail

Express Staff Writer

A proposed affordable housing building in the Ketchum community core met with mixed reaction when project representatives brought preliminary designs to the Planning & Zoning Commission on Monday.

Washington Place Residences, designed as an all-residential building with 23 rental units, was introduced conceptually to commissioners in February. Monday's pre-application design review was the first time they viewed the façade and design aspects. The presentation allowed for an exchange of ideas before an application to the city is made.

The Ketchum Community Development Corp. is developing the site in partnership with GMD Development. Williams Partners Architects is designing the four-story project at 211 E. First St. at the corner of Washington Avenue on land owned by the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency.

The modern design incorporates sustainable features that include solar panels.

"I think the applicant's done a great job," P&Z Commissioner Steve Cook said.

The site is in the city core but is within the urban residential zoning subdistrict, which means retail space is not required.

An all-residential project one block off Main Street, however, is not sitting well with some Ketchum residents and business owners, who feel that retail provides much-needed vitality downtown—and aligns projects with the city's master plan.

Attorney Gary Slette, representing architect Jim McLaughlin, said standards in the zoning code should be applied uniformly throughout the district.


Slette told the Idaho Mountain Express on Tuesday that the placement of an all-residential building in the commercial district appears to run counter to the city's desire to preserve commercial uses in the core, which in turn promotes vitality.

"Why would you put (this type of project) on the first block off of Main Street when you're trying to promote commercial activity?" he said. "It goes back to the whole concept of zoning."

"Application of provisions of the ordinance uniformly—that's important," he added.

Commissioner Sam Williams argued that all-residential buildings provide vitality because they enable people to live downtown.

"I couldn't disagree more," countered Commissioner Rich Fabiano. "I think it's a big mistake to give up retail."

Also generating significant public comment was the issue of parking. Although city code does not require parking for affordable housing projects, Washington Place has 21 proposed spaces.

If every resident has a vehicle, some speakers noted, those without designated parking spaces could displace visitors' or shoppers' cars on the street. They also would have nowhere to park overnight.

Williams encouraged developers to create a parking plan to address overflow issues, saying the problem won't solve itself.

The city itself, though, may be in a more logical position to address parking, said Lisa Horowitz, Ketchum's community and economic development director.

"That could be a municipal function," she said Tuesday.

Horowitz noted that the applicants have "met and exceeded the parking requirement, according to the zoning code."

The project's proximity to the upcoming Bald Mountain Lodge also is being taken into consideration. The luxury hotel is set to be constructed on Main Street between First and River streets.

"It's important we keep the look (of Washington Place Residences) as clean as possible," Fabiano said.

Rebecca Meany:

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