Wednesday, October 23, 2013

URA approves land swap deal

City Council will make final decision on proposal

Express Staff Writer

    The Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency unanimously approved a controversial land exchange on Monday to advance a plan to build affordable housing west of the commercial core.
    The vote approved a plan to trade the city-owned property at 211 E. First St. for property at 611-691 Second Ave., north of the Ketchum Post Office. Ultimately, the URA plans to create 21-24 new affordable-housing units on the site. The site is zoned General Residential-Low Density, with a small portion zoned Tourist, which allows for more development.
    Approval of the exchange occurred after Lisa Horowitz, the city’s community and economic development director, proposed an amendment to give the Second Avenue property holders Emil Capik, Tim Higgins and Bernard Gratlon 10 days to decide on the agreement. While URA member Jim Slanetz was not in attendance, the rest of the board approved the amendment, followed by the amended agreement.

We have a very valuable asset that’s
not working for the use we intended it.”
Randy Hall
URA commissioner and mayor

    There were multiple URA meetings leading up to the vote in which Ketchum residents questioned the intent and motives for making the exchange. In the previous URA meeting, attorney Ben Worst accused the URA of circumventing the Idaho state constitution, not getting equal value for the exchange and even “cooking the books.”
    Ketchum resident Phyllis Shafran said she was against the land deal in part because of the negative impacts it would have on parking.
    “My concern with this exchange is that you’re trading a piece of property in the core that can be used for parking, a parking structure which the city of needs drastically,” Shafran said. “They moved several parking spaces when fixing the downtown. We need parking desperately in the city of Ketchum.”
    Shafran also said she was against the agreement because no restrictions would be placed on the property holders to build affordable housing, calling the URA “hypocritical” as a result.
    Following public comments, members of the URA board said the Ketchum City Council will not rush through working to reach a final decision on the exchange.
    “The City Council will have to decide if they want to upzone it or not,” URA member and Mayor Randy Hall said. “We have a very valuable asset that’s not working for the use we intended it, so we had an obligation to reconsider why we own it.”
    URA Chariman Mark Eshman agreed with Hall, saying that the exchange is far from being finalized.
    “This is only the very, very first step,” Eshman said. “It could be a matter of weeks before City Council will have a look at this and makes any decision.”

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