Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Warm Springs Ranch use restricted

Hotel development stuck in ‘holding pattern’

Express Staff Writer

Owners of Warm Springs Ranch in Ketchum plan to demolish the building that once housed the popular Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant, above. Express file photo

Wood River Valley residents who enjoy walking on the 77-acre Warms Springs Ranch site northwest of downtown Ketchum will need to abide by some restrictions imposed by the owner if the property is to remain open to public use.

Helios Development, a Madison, N.J., company that owns the property and plans to build a luxury hotel on the site, announced several changes to the site’s usage policy in a recent “open letter” to Ketchum residents. The letter was sent to the Idaho Mountain Express last week by Helios Development’s law firm, Ketchum-based Lawson Laski Clark & Pogue.

Changes listed in the letter include closing the property to the public from dusk to dawn, allowing access to the property through pedestrian gates only, requesting that people sign in and out at a “station created for that purpose” each time they access the property and requiring dog owners to leash or have voice control over their dogs at all times while on the property. Smoking or fires of any kind, motorized vehicles and camping are prohibited under the new restrictions.

“These restrictions will be effective immediately and will be enforced by a private security firm hired by [Helios Development],” the letter states. “If you see any violators please ask that they comply with the restrictions. Your respect for our property and anticipated cooperation by complying with our restrictions will be appreciated and allow us to continue to share the property with you.”

Attorney Edward Lawson said the property is used “extensively” by the public and that Helios Development is “happy” that people are recreating on the land. However, he said, some people have not been careful with their use and the owner wants to avoid a “monumental” problem.

“They could have put up ‘No Trespassing’ signs and hired armed guards, but they want people to be able to enjoy the property,” Lawson said.

He said Helios Development has been particularly concerned over recent incidents involving open fires.

“The owner wants to minimize any risk of harm to the property and to the people using it so that more draconian measures won’t have to be employed in the future,” Lawson said. “Use of the property is encouraged, but it should be responsible.”

Lawson said Monday that progress on the proposed development of a luxury hotel on the property has been halted by the current economic climate.

“Development plans are in a holding pattern for now,” he said. “Everything has been suspended until the market improves.”

Project spokeswoman Joy Kasputys said Tuesday that Helios Development still plans to move forward with the project. However, the December 2011 death of Anton Vonk—a co-owner of the property—has been a “setback.” Kasputys said Diane Boss—another co-owner and Vonk’s wife—has been focused on dealing with the estate and with her loss over the past year. However, she said some progress is being made on the project.

“We’re looking into demolishing the old Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant building,” she said. “We need to get that taken care of. It’s become an eyesore. It’s time.”

That demolition will most likely not take place until the spring, Kasputys said.

Last fall, the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission approved several design changes to the proposed hotel, including a significant reduction in the project’s total size—from 750,000 square feet to 500,000. Lawson told the commission last fall that the scope of the project had been reduced to make it more feasible in the current economic environment.

Following a multi-year application process, the city approved the original version of the project in 2009. The city also approved 67 acres of the property to be annexed into Ketchum.

The revised plans call for a 357,000-square-foot hotel along with 31 residential units, a spa, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a Dave Pelz short-course golf practice facility, a fishing area and other amenities.

Since Ketchum approved the revised plans, the city has granted several time extensions to this and three other approved hotel development projects in the area because of the economic downturn. However, the current “holding pattern” cannot be maintained forever. Lisa Horowitz, Ketchum’s community and economic development director, said Helios must apply for a building permit to begin construction no later than Aug. 2, 2016.

Until then, no progress is required by the city, and people can continue to enjoy the site—provided they respect the new rules.

Brennan Rego:

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