Wednesday, July 20, 2011

CDC gets time to pursue housing

Plan calls for 23 units on First Street site


By REBECCA MEANY
Express Staff Writer

The Ketchum CDC has plans to redevelop this site on First Street. The property—once a residence and then a consignment store—is now unoccupied. Photo by Mountain Express

The Ketchum Community Development Corp. and GMD Development will have until the end of 2012 to pursue an affordable-housing project downtown. The Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency on Monday approved the partnership's exclusive option to lease—in part because they met the criteria outlined in a request for proposal, according to the URA, and in part because they were the only ones to submit a proposal by the deadline.

The URA hopes to build an affordable-housing project at 211 E. First St., at the corner of Washington Avenue. The Community Development Corp. and GMD, along with Williams Partners Architects, previously submitted conceptual designs for a 23-unit, all-residential project.

The partnership said it needs exclusive rights to pursue development as it seeks federal low-income-housing tax credits for the project.

"The clock is ticking on the tax-credit application," said Lisa Horowitz, URA community and economic development director.

Though theirs was the only proposal submitted to the URA on deadline, some Ketchum property owners have objected to the terms, the process and the project itself.

Ketchum architect Jim McLaughlin, with a group called the Commercial Core Coalition, spoke against the all-residential nature of the proposed project.

"We're not against housing," he said.

Rather, he said, some commercial aspect should be considered for the site.

GMD's Greg Dunfield asked for a two-year option to lease, which would give the firm several opportunities to apply for the tax credits.

"It's pretty standard in our industry to have more than one opportunity to apply," he said. "There are ones you don't get right out of the gate."

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URA board member Larry Helzel posed the questions of whether more housing was needed and, if more affordable housing is created, would it bring in more people to the city or just move existing residents around to other units.

He said it was incumbent upon the Community Development Corp. to provide data that supported its claims.

Dunfield said a new housing-needs assessment is in the works, and will provide that data for the URA as well as for lenders who will consider the tax-credit application.

"It's a core element of the application," he said.

Board member Nina Jonas said she had reservations about creating more housing when so many market-rate units sit empty.

She said she sympathized with property owners and developers who are unable to sell their properties, but added that her job as a URA commissioner was to foster economic growth, and the creation of affordable housing is a key part of the URA plan.

"I'm fairly conflicted on this topic," she said.

Ketchum resident Kingsley Murphy said he felt no such conflict.

"We really feel left out," he said. "The public is coming to the table when the decision has already been made."

He urged the URA to slow down the process to allow the public to suggest other options for the site.

Board Chair Randy Hall declined to follow that suggestion, saying the URA had been discussing the topic for nearly five years.

The board voted to approve the option to lease, with URA Vice Chair Mark Eshman abstaining.

"This is not the lease," board member Larry Helzel said in an interview. "The lease is totally dependent upon them getting the tax credits."

Rebecca Meany: rmeany@mtexpress.com




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