Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Affordable-housing complex passes muster

Commissioners approve McHanville development

Express Staff Writer

Plans for the McHanville Apartments complex, which includes five units of affordable housing, were approved by Blaine County commissioners last week. Construction could begin this winter, according to project architect Michael Doty. Courtesy graphic

A 15-unit apartment rental complex for the McHanville area south of Ketchum was approved last week, making it the first of what county officials hope will be several affordable-housing projects in the area.

Developer CK Enterprises and architect Michael Doty applied earlier this year to build the complex in the mixed-use McHanville area.

The lot is in the county's Community Housing Overlay District, meaning the developer is required to provide a certain percentage of deed-restricted units.

Five of the complex's 15 apartments will have income-based rents, ranging from $545 for a lowest-income-level three-bedroom apartment to $861 for a highest-income-level one-bedroom. The units range in size from 777 square feet to 1,463 square feet.

During a commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 22, Marc Reinemann, a local real estate agent and the developer's representative, said the project is "unusual" and the result of his client's wanting to give back to the community.

"The two things he wanted to accomplish were to create affordable housing and to put people to work," Reinemann said.

But not just any affordable housing, he added. The complex's units will have high ceilings, large windows, efficient insulation and the ability to retrofit the buildings for solar energy panels.

"We wanted these to have a nice feel," Reinemann said. "We wanted these to be desirable, we wanted these to stand the test of time."

Doty, the project's architect, is LEED-certified and perhaps best known for his recent work on Roxy's Market on Main Street in Ketchum. Doty's other recent projects include renovation of the Cornerstone Bar and Grill on Main Street in Ketchum.

In describing his work during the meeting, Doty repeatedly stated that the buildings are designed to be places that valley residents will want to live in, rather than live in because it's the only affordable option. One perk, Doty said, is the storage space available for each unit.

"We're trying to make a project that is a rental that is a very nice place to be, where if you do have the ability to collect [skis, bikes or snowmobiles], you have somewhere to put them," he said.

Doty has also designed the units to have multiple walls open to windows, some of which are 10 feet high due to pitched ceilings.

The project's 15 units slightly exceed the recommended density of the property under Blaine County Housing Authority guidelines. Based on the parcel's .92 acres, the guidelines state that the property should have a maximum of 14, not 15, units.

However, the guidelines define a unit as 1,250 square feet, meaning that the number of one-bedroom 777-square foot units gives the developer a certain amount of leeway.

Doty said that in talks with the Housing Authority, he discovered the area needed more one-bedroom than three-bedroom units, and so he split one proposed three-bedroom into two single-person units.

"The square footage hasn't changed at all," he said. "We're not asking for more footage. We're talking about the number of doors, if you will."

Housing Authority Executive Administrator David Patrie said the project has the organization's full support.

"We have a real need for those one-bedroom units," he said.

Public comment seemed to support the organization's position, as Ketchum resident and frequent political candidate Mickey Garcia said he's been waiting for a project like this for years.

"I think this is great," he said during Tuesday's meeting. "[Affordable housing] is needed, and you should squeeze as many [units] out of a property as you can. I suggest you OK this so it can be shovel-ready."

The application sped through the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission in one night and was passed by the county after just a little over an hour of deliberation—which Commissioner Tom Bowman said spoke to the strength of the application.

"It was an excellent project, and good projects always get approved quickly," Bowman said in an interview.

The commissioners are set to sign the findings and officially approve the project on Dec. 6. Doty said construction could begin within a few months, and the developers could put down foundations through the winter.

Bowman added in an interview on Monday that the McHanville Apartments would go a long way toward boosting the vitality of the distressed area.

"I couldn't ask for a better first project in our south gateway area," he said. "I think it's something the whole community can be proud of."

Katherine Wutz:

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