Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hotel project goes to council, again

P&Z favors scaled-down Warm Springs Ranch plan

Express Staff Writer

A scaled-down, reconfigured Warm Springs Ranch proposal gained approval from the Ketchum Planning & Zoning Commission on Monday, but the project, originally approved more than two years ago, still needs a go-ahead from the City Council.

Representatives from project owner Helios Development and P&Z commissioners debated the finer points of the new proposal, eventually reaching agreement on amended workforce housing components and recreational requirements.

Helios asked for modifications to its planned-unit development agreement this summer, citing an economy that won't support the original project. The P&Z considered the request at a meeting Aug. 22. The applicant submitted an updated master development plan to the city this month.

The latest incarnation for the 77-acre site northwest of downtown is a 500,000-square-foot development, reduced from the original 750,000 square feet. The first phase is now planned as 357,000 square feet, composed of 120 hotel rooms, 31 residential units, a spa, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a Dave Pelz short-course golf practice facility, a fishing area and other amenities. Homes are scheduled to be built in phases two and three.

According to the recommended agreement, the public would have access to two of the four tennis courts for a couple of hours two days a week and access to and reduced fees for the golf facility.

Some Ketchum residents have lamented the reduction in recreational facilities with the closure of the former property's golf course and tennis courts. They presented spirited arguments over the years to maintain recreational opportunities at previous levels.

Developers originally proposed giving $500,000 to the city for the creation of off-site tennis courts, improvement to existing tennis facilities or other recreational needs as determined by the city. That number had been reduced to zero, but after recent negotiations with the city it was set at $300,000. Developers say that figure is commensurate with the project's smaller size.

Though the reduced lump sum does not allow for the complete funding of a Ketchum Parks and Recreation Department capital improvement plan, "both recreation amenities offer opportunities for public access," Jen Smith, parks and recreation director, wrote in a memo to city staff.

Ketchum resident Neil Morrow said he was glad to see the Dave Pelz golf facility.

"It would bring us something unique," he said.

David Hurd, of Ketchum, has long favored more public facilities at the property and urged developers to provide six tennis courts and a nine-hole golf course.

Developers and commissioners also agreed on modification of the workforce-housing component. Instead of building that housing on-site, project owners would create a workforce-housing fund with money generated from the sale of merchandise and services at the property. That money, 0.5 percent of gross sales, would be set aside to assist employees in securing housing.

"This gives them a choice where they want to live," said Ed Lawson, the applicant's attorney.

David Patrie, Blaine County Housing Authority's new executive administrator, said he would withhold comment on the housing proposal until discussing the details with the organization's board of directors.

Doug Brown, executive director of Wood River Economic Partnership, liked the idea.

"We think this innovative, flexible approach the applicant has is a good one," he said.

He also voiced support for the amended agreement.

"We need to lower the obstacles and raise the incentives and get something done in our community," he said.

The City Council will review the recommendations at a meeting sometime this fall.

Rebecca Meany:

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