Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ketchum housing plan still under fire

Coalition seeks more changes in URA process

Express Staff Writer

This property on First Street in Ketchum is the planned site for an affordable-housing development. Photo by Mountain Express

Ketchum's Urban Renewal Agency has altered its approach for the development of property it owns downtown, but a group monitoring the process is advocating for more changes.

Attorney Martin Flannes, whose firm represents the Commercial Core Coalition, stated in a letter sent to URA Chair Randy Hall that his clients—who are property tenants, owners and managers—were pleased that the URA had initiated a request-for-proposal process for development of land at 211 E. First St., at the corner of Washington Avenue.

The URA had previously considered giving exclusive development rights to a partnership between the Ketchum Community Development Corp. and GMD Development to develop an all-affordable-housing project on the site. Preliminary designs were shown to the Planning & Zoning Commission in April.

Following objections by the coalition, the URA is now seeking bids through an RFP process.

The letter, dated June 21, identifies several areas the coalition feels still need to be addressed. Among them are the "narrow RFP scope" and 10-day response time.

"It's a custom-written RFP in reverse," he said in an interview. "They asked for a project they already have. It seems to me they've decided what they're going to do. They are grudgingly going through the motions of complying with the law."

Flannes argues that limiting the scope of the RFP to community housing is a narrow vision that he says is out of compliance with the URA's own plan.

"The URA should write proposals for any uses set forth for the property in Ketchum's URA plan," he said.

Uses for land in the commercial core, he said, should include commercial buildings or parking structures, which he said fall under the commercial use category.

He questioned whether residential use is even allowed under the URA plan for that specific site.

Ketchum City Planner Rebecca Bundy said the site is in the city core within the Urban Residential zoning subdistrict. Different building types are allowed under that subdistrict, including all-residential projects.

Flannes also objected to the short turnaround time allotted under the RFP. He maintains that the Idaho Urban Renewal Law requires a 30-day timeframe.

In addition, he claims there has been an ongoing discussion between some entities for half a year.

"It's clear that the [Ketchum Community Development Corp.], the URA and GMD Development have been talking for six months about this project that they clearly favor," Flannes said. "People seem to be giving some special status to the KCDC. It certainly seems to be getting special treatment."

In a June 9 letter that Flannes sent to Lisa Horowitz, Ketchum's community and economic development director, he takes issue with that perceived preferential treatment.

"It appears that the City of Ketchum ... has already decided that it will approve the design of the Project, the requested parking incentives and density bonuses, and the requested waivers of applicable zoning district standards, which of course would be in violation of [Ketchum Municipal Code] and Idaho law," he wrote.

"It also appears that the city otherwise intends to give preferential treatment to the Project because it involves community housing and/or is on land owned by the URA, which of course would also be in violation of [Ketchum Municipal Code], Idaho law, and federal law," the letter continues.

Hall said he stands by the URA's plan and process.

"The property was bought with the intention of having some housing on it," he said Tuesday. "Housing on that property is right now the highest and best use. We have some neighbors that don't think this project is a good idea and don't want to see it come to fruition."

Flannes said the coalition is "actively considering its options."

URA Attorney Stephanie Bonney did not return a call seeking comment by press time Tuesday.

Rebecca Meany:

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