Friday, October 4, 2013

Public weighs in on URA housing

Crowd gives mixed reaction to proposed land transaction

Express Staff Writer

    The Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency got mixed reviews Monday when citizens weighed in on a proposed land exchange to build affordable housing.
    The URA is considering an exchange of land it owns at 211 E. First St. for property at 611-691 Second Ave., north of the Ketchum Post Office. Emil Capik, Alex Higgins and Bernard Gratlon—who make up a group called CHG—are the owners of the Second Avenue property.
The proposed project 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.

There is no perfect solution.
There is only a solution.”
Mark Eshman
URA chairman

    Citizens filled the Ketchum City Hall meeting room Monday to give comments on the land exchange.
    First, URA Chairman Mark Eshman talked about the importance of building affordable housing in Ketchum.
    “Workforce housing is one of Ketchum citizenry’s most valued priorities time after time,” he said. “Our housing stock is old. Ketchum’s single-family rental inventory is old.”
    According to the Ketchum Community Development Corp., Eshman said, more than 40 percent of the city’s housing inventory was built in the 1970s. Another 16 percent was built in the 1950s and 60s.
    “We’re aware that with workforce housing inevitably comes the neighbors who, while they support the concept, may not want it in their midst,” he said. “We get that. We’re under no illusion that whenever we propose workforce housing, we will be met by those who don’t want it in their backyard. There is no perfect solution. There is only a solution.”
    In November 2006, the URA purchased the property at 211 E. First Street for $1,550,000. The URA was able to refinance the purchase debt with a conditional loan from the Idaho Housing Finance Association for $2,000,000. On June 6, 2013, the property was appraised at a value of $1,045,000. According to the URA, the property it is attempting to acquire is worth $1,380,000.
    Despite the URA’s favorable appraisal of the land exchange, city resident Ben Worst said the URA is not getting equal value for the potential trade. He made a number of accusations against the URA, drawing applause from the audience at the conclusion of his remarks.
    “Let’s face it, the primary purpose of this particular Urban Renewal Agency is to circumvent the Idaho Constitution, which requires two-thirds approval for any borrowing beyond your current budget year,” Worst said. That’s why you’re here.”
    Worst said the URA has overspent on the project, and argued that the Tourist-zoned portion of the Second Avenue property does not have enough land to meet minimum lot size requirements. He said he does not think the URA is serious about building affordable housing on the property because of its failure to include a “finance contingency” in the exchange agreement. Worst even accused the URA of “cooking the books” to hide $1,400,000 taken out of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
    Community and Economic Development Director Lisa Horowitz wrote a letter to the URA that explained the advantages of building affordable housing at the proposed site.
    “The proposed swap parcel is in an excellent location for community housing,” she said. “The property is gently sloped, which could allow for a portion of the site to have at-grade parking tucked under some of the units. Infrastructure is available in the adjacent streets.” 
Ketchum-area resident John Sofro said he is in favor of the proposed transaction.
    “If you look at the facts of the URA, it’s virtually the only tool to accomplish these kinds of projects,” Sofro said. “I’m all in on this. I think this site is a great site for what’s being contemplated.”
    President of Ketchum Community Development Corp. Neil Bradshaw agreed with Sofro.
    “This exchange will allow the URA to create further value we do not currently have at the site,” he said. “We lose as a community if we do nothing. I applaud the URA for trying to do something to address this need.”
    The URA did not vote on the proposed land exchange. The board will hold its next regular meeting on Nov. 18.
Eric Avissar:

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