Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ketchum leaders weigh hotels, housing

City awaits needs assessment

Express Staff Writer

A city's priorities can sometimes come into conflict with each other. Ketchum's goal of courting hotel developers is being weighed against another goal of developing employee housing.

The City Council held a policy discussion on employee-housing requirements during its regular meeting Monday—a debate wherein council members considered ways to bring these goals into alignment.

Ketchum has four "entitled," or approved, hotel projects, but none has started construction because of the economic downturn. Developers have raised objections about the city's employee housing requirements and how, in light of current economic conditions, those requirements make building new hotels difficult, according to a city staff report.

New hotels would provide jobs, both in the construction and service professions, and would help generate tourism and economic development.

"Our community needs construction yesterday," Councilman Larry Helzel said.

The city also wants to mitigate the impact those developments would create; job creation can mean additional need for affordable housing.

City officials are trying to determine how much employee housing should be asked of hotel developers.

One option is to allow greater density in return for more employee housing.

Councilman Baird Gourlay asked whether incentives or requirement waivers have any impact.

The city worked out an agreement more than a year ago with developers of Bald Mountain Lodge, but construction has yet to begin.

Ketchum resident Mickey Garcia said the city shouldn't spend time tailoring policy to fluctuating economic conditions.

"What Ketchum does is not a factor," he said.

The national economy plays a much bigger role, he said.

Ketchum resident Anne Corrock agreed, saying policy should be sustainable and work for long periods of time.

Mayor Randy Hall said that approach has been tried by government for hundreds of years, to no avail.

"It doesn't work that way," he said.

The city likely won't change its employee housing policy until a new housing needs assessment being conducted by the Blaine County Housing Authority is complete this fall. The last needs assessment was completed in 2006, at the height of the economic boom. Housing needs and inventory have changed greatly since then.

Rebecca Meany:

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