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For the week of Oct. 6, 1999 through Oct. 12, 1999

Hailey P&Z approves affordable housing development

Express Staff Writer

Following unanimous approval by the Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission last week, a proposed 192-unit development has passed a major hurdle toward becoming Hailey’s largest affordable housing complex.

The commission approved the planned-unit development, slated for a parcel in the Woodside subdivision, during a meeting on Tuesday of last week. The proposal must still be approved by the city council.

The decision came after two in-depth presentations by Thomas Development Co.’s six-member team and a grueling deliberation by the planning and zoning commission over an issue that has some local residents and officials drawing lines in the dirt and admonishing the developer not to overstep the boundary.

The complex, called Balmoral Apartments, would cover about 15 acres west of Woodside Boulevard, between Shenandoah Drive and Laurelwood Drive.

The application for the development has two parts. Thomas Development has requested a permit to build 20 percent more density on the property than would otherwise be permitted by the city, and to shift that density to about 13 acres of the property.

The developer has also asked the city to vacate a one-block, unpaved section of Briarwood Drive, so that a 3.2-acre park can be built adjacent to the existing bike path.

The developer would complete the project in two phases. During phase one, scheduled to begin early next year, the developer would construct the first 10 buildings containing 120 units. Phase two would complete the project, but is not yet scheduled, according to the developer.

One major consideration for the commission was the addition of a traffic signal it said the development will require at the intersection of Countryside Boulevard and state Highway 75. The commission has left it up to the city council to apportion the signal’s cost between the city and the developer.

In 1997, a Blaine County Housing Authority assessment identified a need for more affordable housing in the valley. Authority director Steve Amsbaugh has said that even though Balmoral Apartments will be financed, constructed and managed independent of the authority’s guidelines, the project nevertheless will help fulfill that need.

According to city officials, Hailey has about 10 managed apartment complexes that are larger than 10 units each, and only one of those complexes is not publicly subsidized.

Fred Free of the Idaho Housing Financing Association (IHFA), a state agency that directs housing finance programs, said the Balmoral Apartments is unique in Hailey by being financed through the federal HOME Investment Partnership Program, which helps provides low-cost financing to developers, thus allowing them to offer lower rents.

Thomas Development says Balmoral rents will run from $310 for a one-bedroom apartment to $742 for a three-bedroom, and that open-market rents for those units would be $620 and $860 respectively.

Local residents at the meeting were obviously worried about the development. They expressed concerns about escalating crime, atrocious aesthetics and plummeting property values.

"We already have several unattractive, low-income buildings in the neighborhood," landlord Tawni Baker said. After comparing the developer’s architectural designs to that of a college dormitory, she said that her own rental property was going to have empty units, because these new units "are highly more affordable."

Seventy-two-year-old Elizabeth Brogan, who lives next door to the planned development, explained that her income is less than $16,000 a year and that she is sympathetic to the housing needs of the poor. "But," she added, "my feeling is that it’s too massive. It will have too great of an impact."

In an interview after the meeting, Hailey Police Chief Jack Stoneback said his department definitely receives more calls to the city’s low-income apartments—mostly for theft and domestic violence.

These are not new concerns. Through more than 30 years of "The Great Society" housing programs, and 20 years of the Section 8 housing experiment, cries of "Not in my back yard!" have reverberated in America’s suburbs and cities, Michael MaRous, an expert in urban land economics, wrote in a 1996 article for The Appraisal Journal.

"The certainty about low-income housing is that residents have met government-established income criteria," he added. "Everything else is a variable—the density, the construction materials and design, the maintenance and management, and the resultant effect on neighboring residential property values. "

Thomas Development Company owner Thomas Mannschreck is obviously well-aware of these variables and the concerns they cause.

His team, which included an attorney, a civil engineer, a traffic engineer, an architect and a representative from the IHFA, seemed well prepared for the commission’s concerns.

Mannschreck provided favorable police reports from affordable apartments he has developed in other cities, studies showing that affordable housing in fact does not affect surrounding property values, and architectural renderings, among other supporting material.

Several commissioners commended the team on its presentation. Commissioner Jan Edelstein called it "a pleasure to work with a developer that uses the P&Z design review process to make the project better, not as an adversarial process."

The commission voted to approve both the vacation of Briarwood Drive and the planned-unit development, with the conditions that the developer include specifics about building management in the plan, that only shielded outdoor lighting be used and that more variation be designed into the building to improve aesthetics, to name a few.

Final consideration of the plan by the city council has not been scheduled.


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