The Hailey Planing and Zoning Commission decided unanimously Monday to not back a resolution stating that a master plan for redevelopment of the Friedman Memorial Airport site is in compliance with the city's comprehensive plan.
Community Development Director Beth Robrahn presented a master plan for the 210-acre site, saying it represented a "unique opportunity" to create a "grand vision" for the future of Hailey, including a research campus, clean-technology industries and other businesses that could lead to a more diversified economy.
The plan calls for a multi-use area housing a 200-room hotel and conference center, a retail-residential "village" and a sprinkling of "research and development" centers. The southernmost parcel in the site plan envisions large-format retail stores such as Home Depot and Target. The plan calls for the possibility of up to four such stores, totaling 160,000 square feet.
Robrahn said redevelopment of the airport site could mark a period of increasing job diversity, which could rescue many workers left unemployed with the collapse of the real estate development bubble.
"My husband has not worked in a year," she said.
Robrahn said a marketing component was included in the master plan because the city would be acting as one of the developers of the site.
"The tables have turned. This is very, very different," she said.
Robrahn said city officials will eventually oversee zoning of the land under a future land-use planning process. She suggested that the city could establish a new zoning district for the site with new building standards and restrictions to bring the grand vision to reality.
Zoning restrictions on roof sizes would have to expand from current city allowances to include larger roof sizes to accommodate box stores.
"Box stores would not be integral to the overall strategy. They would not be critical," Robrahn said.
Yet the city stumbled at one of the first hurdles it had to overcome Monday night, when the commission found too many uncertainties in the plan to find it in compliance with the city's comprehensive plan.
The comprehensive plan outlines development goals for the city for the next 20 years, including connectivity, sustainability and diversity.
Commissioner Mark Johnstone said the redevelopment plan does not satisfy the comprehensive plan's requirement of creating a "compact city." He also said that based on his own research into similar redevelopments elsewhere, it could take 40 years to build out the site.
"It's difficult to know what the future holds," he said. "We should include complete flexibility to change with the times."
Commissioner Janet Fugate said the inclusion of box stores on the site would not be sensitive to the needs of longstanding Hailey businesses such as Idaho Lumber.
"If a Home Depot came in, would they be gone?" she asked. "This is not so much about adding diversity as it is about putting local people out of business."
Other concerns raised Monday included the possibility that an investor with "deep pockets" could buy the entire airport property early on in the zoning process and overrule whatever the city wants to develop there.
Consultant Rick Hill with Village Solutions, a real estate development marketing firm in Anchorage, Ky., reported to city and county leaders at a meeting last month that both Idaho National Laboratory and Boise State University might be interested in using the Friedman Memorial Airport site if it were developed according to the master plan.
Hill could not be reached for comment, but Councilman Geoffrey Moore expressed enthusiasm for the grand vision.
"I am an unemployed carpenter and I would love to become a nuclear engineer," he said.
Since the Village Solutions presentation, INL has played down its interest in being part of the development.
Tony Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org