Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Warm Springs Ranch plan unveiled

City quiet as owners propose $200 million re-development of high-profile site

Express Staff Writer

Henry Dean , project director for the re-development of Warm Springs Ranch, talks about how the project might impact a herd of elk that winter on the site. Dean and environmental consultant Will Miller, seated, said management of the herd will be left to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Photo by Willy Cook

The owners of Warm Springs Ranch, the high-profile recreational and commercial property north of downtown Ketchum, unveiled this week an estimated $200 million redevelopment plan for the site that includes dozens of residences, a new boutique hotel and a new building for the Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant.

Central to the proposed land plan is the decommissioning of the site?s nine-hole golf course and converting the majority of its acreage to a publicly accessible nature preserve and ?passive? recreation area.

?We recognized the significance of this one-of-a-kind property from the very beginning,? Dean said. ?This was an uncompromising effort to produce a plan that respects the heritage of Warm Springs Ranch while creating something of truly lasting value for Ketchum residents and visitors.?

With three project consultants, Dean presented the ambitious plan to the Ketchum City Council Monday, Aug. 16, touting its public benefits and sensitivity to the environment.

?We?re preserving over half of this property,? he said.

Development group Sun Valley Ventures?now owned by Sun Valley resident Steve Roth and three out-of-state partners?in 2003 acquired title to the 77-acre Warm Springs Ranch property from the family of longtime owner Owen Simpson.

While most of the property is under the jurisdiction of Blaine County, approximately 10 acres of the site is located in the city of Ketchum?s Tourist zoning district.

The redevelopment plan?which would require approval of four separate land-use applications from the city before it could be implemented?is one of the most significant propos-als ever brought forth in Ketchum.

It would ultimately expand the city?s land area by about 65 acres and would transform one of the most popular dining and recreation venues in the Ketchum area.

The key elements of the redevelopment plan include:

 Constructing a new boutique hotel, called the Lodge at Warm Springs Ranch, on both sides of Warm Springs Creek. A proposed 10- to 12-room main lodge and restaurant would be located roughly in the same location as the existing Warm Springs Ranch restaurant. Some 48 to 50 deluxe lodging cabins would be located along the tree line of the property?s southern edge.

 Developing approximately 75 condominiums and townhouses on the Tourist-zoned portion of the property. Eight tennis courts in the area would be removed.

 Building a new Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant next to the main lodge. Proprietor Bob Dunn would continue to manage the business, which would be designed to closely resemble the existing facility.

 Constructing a new full-service, 4,000-square-foot spa on the south side of Warm Springs Creek.

 Developing eight to 10 affordable housing units.

 Restoring and protecting more than 85 percent of the golf course land as a nature preserve with dedicated public access for activities such as birding, fishing, hiking, jogging, cross-county skiing and biking. The developers are also proposing a $2 million restora-tion of 4,500 linear feet of Warm Springs Creek and the bordering ri-parian zone.

 Erecting a 180-vehicle parking structure?covered by condominiums?adjacent to Warm Springs Road.

In addition, the plan calls for es-tablishing a new public hiking trail that would connect existing trails on the River Run and Warm Springs sides of Bald Mountain.

The entire proposal is contingent upon the city approving a forthcoming application to annex into Ketchum the approximately 65 acres of the site that now lies in Blaine County.

Mayor Ed Simon noted Monday that any decision to annex land into the city is entirely discretional. Land annexations typically involve negotiations for public benefits offered in exchange for approval.

?No agreements have been made,? Simon stressed Monday.

Jim Ruscitto, project architect, said the site?s Tourist-zoned parcel could legally be developed with 240 housing units. Approximately 85, including the residential and hotel units, are proposed.

After the presentation Monday, council members and the public?both directed by Simon not to comment on the plan until after a formal land-use application is submitted to the city?stayed mum.

Simon assured dozens of inter-ested parties that a decision on whether to annex the additional Warm Springs land will come only after numerous public hearings.

Christopher Simms, executive director of Citizens for Smart Growth and a member of the developer?s community advisory committee, said he and other committee members are ?respectful? of the plan but ?do not fully support? it.

He said the group has made a list of recommendations to Dean that include relocating some of the cabins and replacing the tennis courts?either on or off the site.

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