Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Owners agree to URA land exchange

Deal could allow community housing on Second Avenue

Express Staff Writer

The owners of a downtown property sought by the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency for a proposed community housing project have agreed to a land swap.
    The city was unable to obtain the federal tax credits required to develop community housing on its own lot at 211 E. First St. because the lot is not big enough to build the three-bedroom units that would have given the proposed project a high enough score on the city’s application.
    At an Oct. 21 URA meeting, an amendment was added to the proposed agreement to give Emil Capik, Tim Higgins and Bernard Gratlon, partners in CHG and owners of a parcel at 611-691 Second Ave., 10 days to accept the offer. In a news release dated Nov. 1, the URA stated that the owners had agreed to the trade on Oct. 29.
    “This is a landmark moment for this project,” Ketchum URA Chair Mark Eshman said in the news release. “This moves the dial toward achieving the Ketchum URA’s long-term goal of developing and offering community housing in the city of Ketchum.”
    Under the agreement, project developer GMD will have 120 days from the signing of the agreement to complete an application to rezone a major portion of the property for high-density housing. The exchange will not go through if the rezone is not approved by the City Council.
    Ketchum Mayor and URA Commissioner Randy Hall said the agreement is only a minor step forward, as he believes it will take several months to reach a final decision.
    “I looked at this as another step in the process,” Hall said. “I was OK with the URA looking at this trade as a way to create value for housing here. There is still a long way to go since there needs to be a zoning change.”

It seems like everyone agrees that we should be spending money on affordable housing.”
Randy Hall
Ketchum mayor and URA commissioner

    In several meetings leading up to the approval of the exchange, many Ketchum residents voiced staunch opposition to the land swap, citing the elimination of potential new parking spaces, the URA’s alleged circumvention of the Idaho Constitution and the URA’s not getting a fair financial exchange out of the deal.
    Hall acknowledged that there has been strong opposition, and that the URA is a controversial organization because of strong agreement and disagreement with his platform on affordable housing.
    “It seems like everyone agrees that we should be spending money on affordable housing; it’s just that people disagree on how we should spend the money,” Hall said. “As a result, I feel like the URA has become a hyper-politicized organization.”
    He added that he’s not sure of when the agreement will be brought to the City Council, but said there’s a good chance it will not be until 2014 since it will be difficult to begin the dialogue during the holiday season.
    The Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency was formed in 2006 by the city government to focus on downtown revitalization, community housing and public and private investments. Like other urban renewal agencies around the country, the Ketchum URA is an independent organization with its own budget, bylaws and board of commissioners.    
Eric Avissar:

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