Friday, March 30, 2012

Sun Valley tries to map its future

Comp plan, capital improvements re-enter discussion


By REBECCA MEANY
Express Staff Writer

Bob Youngman

Things that happened—and didn't happen—in the recent past are shaping the path ahead for Sun Valley.

The City Council discussed priorities for this fiscal year during a work session Monday.

A significant undertaking could be an update of the comprehensive plan.

"Comprehensive-plan reviews are [about] looking to see if anything dramatic is changed since they were done," said Virginia Egger, interim executive assistant to the mayor. "They're continually reviewed to see if you're still on track with the vision."

The council and former Mayor Wayne Willich expressed support for a thorough review of the comp plan last year, after Sun Valley Co. abruptly pulled an application for changes to the plan, citing what Wally Huffman, Sun Valley Co.'s director of resorts and resort development, said were flaws in the process for obtaining a zoning change.

Councilman Bob Youngman cited the uproar at that September meeting as well as a lack of understanding in the community regarding current zoning.

"There were people marching up, pointing at lands that are currently zoned as multi-family residential maximum zoning, claiming, 'That's going to be open space,'" he said. "We have a total misunderstanding of what's real and what's not."

One common misconception, he said, is that people think the "gateway" area, around the intersection of Sun Valley and Elkhorn roads, is zoned for open space.

"Little do they know that Sun Valley Co. has existing zoning to put four-story buildings [there]," he said. "That entire 15 acres or whatever it is, is zoned right now for high-density residential. And the base of Penny Hill is zoned for high-density residential. If you told your average Sun Valley resident that, they would not believe you."

The city hopes to undertake an outreach campaign to educate citizens about the existing zoning, solicit input on what the community wants and where, then work with all stakeholders to arrive at an updated comprehensive plan that reflects that.

Councilman Nils Ribi said tapping the community as participants early on is preferable to starting at the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Forming a steering committee could get people on board as well as get the process going before the peak summer season.

"You're never going to get the entire process squeezed into an eight-week period when the majority of people are here," said Community Development Director Mark Hofman.

City staff will present a tentative meeting schedule and cost estimates for a full review and update of comp plan, likely at the council's April meeting.

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Capital Improvement Plan

The council also set as a priority a review of the capital improvement plan. The city's 20-Year Capital Improvement Assessment identifies needs for capital projects, fixed assets, facilities and land acquisition.

A bond issue to help pay for the Five-Year Capital Improvement and Fixed Asset Plan, which is an excerpt from the 20-year plan, narrowly failed last November. Nearly 85 percent of the $14 million bond figure was designated for roads and paths, with the remaining 16 percent for fixed assets.

Ribi said the council should update the capital plan, reprioritize it and do it in conjunction with the budget, then evaluate options for financing it.

"That seems like a reasonable, high-priority thing," Councilwoman Michelle Griffith said.

The council discussed taking another try with a bond issue in November.

"If you want to proceed to get ready for summer of 2013, maybe we accelerate the 2012-2013 budget preparation so that you can decide whether you want to look at a bond issue in November or time that bond issue for next year's season," Egger said.

Griffith said she doubted it would pass, but Ribi said the council should evaluate what's needed, then work to pay for it.

"That's why we want to look at the capital plan first, see what the capital plan needs are, and then once we have that determined, then see what [the] schedule looks like," Ribi said. "We have to get our priorities in there first.

"We may or may not be able to move forward with it, but at least we'd have that program together."

Besides road and path repair, the bond would have funded half of a new aerial-tower fire truck, to be split with Ketchum.

Once a truck reaches 25 years of age, insurance companies don't want to insure it.

"It's considered nonexistent," Griffith said. "Then your fire rating drops and then all of our insurance rates increase."

However, the city may be able to refurbish the existing truck for $400,000 instead of buying a new $1.2 million one.

"We learned that after the last bond issue vote," Ribi said.

Rebecca Meany: rmeany@mtexpress.com




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