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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — April 16, 2004


It takes a (base) village

River Run master plan
raises eyebrows, concerns

Express Staff Writer

A plan unveiled last week by Sun Valley Co. to develop some 160 acres of private land at the River Run base area of Bald Mountain has caught the attention of Ketchum city officials.

The River Run base area of Bald Mountain in the 1990s was developed with the River Run Day lodge, right, a skier services building, left, and a new chairlift. Sun Valley Co. is now planning to develop the surrounding acreage with a new hotel and hundreds of residential units. Express photo by David N. Seelig

After Sun Valley Co. General Manager Wally Huffman on April 6 released a 50-year company master plan that calls for a new luxury hotel, hundreds of residential units and a multi-level parking structure at River Run, southwest of Ketchum, senior city officials expressed a mix of enthusiasm and caution.

City Council President Randy Hall said this week that he believes the plan is generally in line with the city’s goals for the high-profile property, but does raise some concerns.

"It looks like several preliminary meetings we had with Sun Valley Company and their design team paid off," Hall said. "I think we’ve got a plan that thoughtfully addresses the Ketchum Comprehensive Plan."

The conceptual plan for River Run was put forth by Sun Valley Co. as part of a larger master plan for developing portions of the company’s 2,800 acres of land in the Sun Valley-Ketchum area.

The company’s approximately 160 acres of land at River Run is located in Blaine County but lies within the city of Ketchum’s designated area-of-city-impact boundaries.

The Ketchum Comprehensive Plan states unequivocally that the city intends to have jurisdiction over how the prime real estate is developed.

"Annexation of River Run should be required prior to any new development (in the area)," the document states.

Huffman has indicated that Sun Valley Co. later this year will likely seek to annex its River Run property into Ketchum.

Specifically, the Sun Valley Co. draft plan for River Run includes:

  • A new 200-room luxury hotel immediately southeast of the existing River Run Day Lodge. The four- to five-level structure is tentatively proposed to include 134,000 square feet of space, including 14,000 square feet of commercial development and a public plaza.

  • A new 1,500-space parking structure immediately east of the proposed hotel site. Plans for the phased, four-level structure call for putting all but one level below ground.

  • A soccer field on the northern edge of the site.

  • Eleven home sites near the confluence of Trail Creek and the Big Wood River.

  • Up to 478 new residential units scattered throughout the higher elevations of the property. The proposed Townhomes at Trail Creek, with 58 units, would be developed in three complexes on the east side of the site. Twenty condominium structures with approximately 340 units are planned for the north side of the area. Three additional employee-housing buildings would include 84 units.

In addition, the plan calls for possibly installing a gondola from central Ketchum, near the post office, to a new gondola station east of the River Run Day Lodge.

Huffman said Sun Valley Co. deliberately planned a limited amount of commercial space at River Run to protect the viability of businesses in downtown Ketchum.

"We don’t want to create a third commercial core in the northern Wood River Valley," he said.

At the same time, Huffman and his consultants have warned potential critics of the plan that some base villages recently built in other Rocky Mountain resorts include upwards of 800 development units and thousands of square feet of commercial space.

Hall said he is supportive of the move not to develop too much new competition for existing businesses in Ketchum.

However, he noted, he will ask Sun Valley Co. to "mitigate the impacts" of its developments.

The council president said he wants to ensure any plan to develop River Run includes affordable housing, preferably with some deed-restricted community housing not directly controlled by Sun Valley Co.

Hall said he is also concerned about "transportation impacts," but ultimately feels the city can negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement to develop the area.

"I think we’ve been preparing ourselves for this moment for a long time," he said.

Harold Moniz, Ketchum planning director, expressed a similar set of concerns, noting that he intends to look closely at issues pertaining to transportation and circulation, affordable housing and snow storage.

The city of Ketchum currently has an agreement to store snow removed from public areas at River Run.

"Obviously, I’m happy as a clam not having to fight the retail battle," Moniz added.

Moniz said the city would likely examine closely any development proposals at River Run—and their impacts—during the annexation process. He foresees the city entering into a formal development agreement with Sun Valley Co. that links specific development proposals to the land.

Ketchum Mayor Ed Simon said he is primarily concerned about traffic circulation, parking issues and how construction of the project could be phased.

Brian Barsotti, a local developer raising funds to build a $35 million hotel in central Ketchum, said he supports the concept of additional hotel development.

"We look at it as complementary," he said. "The more the hotels the better."


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