Friday, September 20, 2013

URA housing plan raises hackles

Agency eyeing Second Avenue lot for affordable units

Express Staff Writer

     The Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency is getting some resistance to a proposed affordable-housing project on Second Avenue between Sixth and Seventh streets.
     The proposed project—planned for a lot just north of the Simplot lot near the Ketchum Post Office—would create 21-24 new housing units. The lot is zoned General Residential-Low Density, with a small portion zoned Tourist, which allows for more development. According to the city’s website, the beginning cash balance for the project is $200,000. The materials and services for the project are budgeted at $110,000.
     After an executive session Monday that allowed only URA members and city officials, the URA board convened in open session to hear public comments on the project.

We understand that housing is still the No. 1 priority of the community.”
Randy Hall

     “I am not comfortable with several units there for many reasons,” Ketchum resident Becky Worst said. “For one, is there enough room there? Are there enough parking spots allowed there? What if these people have two cars and have guest cars that need to park on the street? I think zoning laws should be reliable, and not changed for convenience.”
      Former Ketchum city attorney Benjamin Worst was also critical of the project and the URA’s handling of the lot’s acquisition from Alex and Patricia Higgins.
    “In terms of value, you are required by Idaho code to get fair value in your exchange,” he said. “The Higgins lot is not one lot, it’s two. One of those lots is a two-zone lot that is probably as small as 1,558 square feet. It has no value. It’s possible that it’s 4,700 square feet but the bottom line is you need 8,000 square feet to have a developable lot. The other property, the GR-L, is either 13,608 feet or 18,000 feet. You have to have 4,000 feet per dwelling. That means we can build either three or four units on that lot, and that brings me to my issue, which is the density.
     Worst also said he believes the URA overpaid for the property.
     “You paid $2,250,000 for a lot that was probably worth $1,700,000,” he said.
    In an open letter on the subject, he alleged that the URA attempted to hide the project.
“If I hadn’t stumbled onto it, the URA would have approved the contract on Sept. 3, 2013, without a single notice to its neighbors,” he wrote. “URA agendas indicate that the URA has known about this specific exchange since at least July 15, 2013. Nonetheless, not a single agenda identifies the Higgins property. This is not a situation where the acquisition parcel must be hidden in order to prevent speculation.”
    Ketchum Community Development Corp. member Neil Bradshaw defended the URA, and attempted to assuage concerns regarding public support.
    “One of the things we are tasked with is to help find affordable housing for our community,” Bradshaw said. “I have huge support throughout the community for affordable housing. We take every step very seriously with due diligence and the best interest of the community. If it is not the right solution, then it won’t have the support of the community, and it won’t go through.”
    Mayor Randy Hall also attempted to quell concerns that the URA is attempting to rush the project.    
    “The URA is just the owner of the property,” he said. “Once there is a purchase and sale agreement, then there are a lot of contingencies. The big contingency is the zoning, but that is compartmentalized and a conversation that is for the Ketchum City Council, not the URA. The City Council would likely need a month to six weeks of public hearings if the purchase and sale agreement goes through in order to have the full conversation over the zoning.”
    Hall also reiterated that the meeting was held to receive public comment, and it was not a formal review.
    “We own a problematic piece of property,” Hall said. “We purchased this property for housing. We’ve been denied tax credit applications twice, so we went to the public and let them know we’re looking for a piece of property to become productive for us and the community. Also, we understand that housing is still the No. 1 priority of the community.”
Eric Avissar:

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