The city of Hailey has been reworking its zoning regulations for about two years to entice developers to create housing that working people can afford.
The Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission had mixed reactions Monday to a proposed 42-unit rental apartment complex at 301-307 S. River St. that could fit the bill.
“It’s what the Downtown Residential Overlay was intended for,” said P&Z Chairwoman Janet Fugate. “But it’s a lot bigger than any of us expected to see.”
Architect and former Hailey P&Z Commissioner Jay Cone spearheaded an effort 15 months ago to create the Downtown Residential Overlay district, which now covers a wide swath of downtown, including River Street.
Cone and consultant David Patrie requested additional changes to the city’s zoning map Monday to make the River Street project possible. They represent West Crescent Advisors Idaho LLC.
The changes would include the rezone of several lots on River Street and Elm Street from General Residential and Limited Business to Business (to eliminate setback requirements for the development) and a “pop out” expansion of 5,300 square feet of “unbuildable” lots into the Downtown Residential Overlay boundary.
Patrie, who until recently served as executive director of the Blaine County Housing Authority, stated through a slideshow that the project conforms to the city’s comprehensive plan and would serve a city in dire need of housing.
“You are in a race to provide housing,” Patrie said. “If this is not the spot for this, where in Hailey is?”
Peter Caldara, who lives on Willow Way directly west of the proposed development, said he did not want it in his backyard.
“Those unbuildable lots were my solace as a buffer,” Caldara said. “I don’t want a three-story building on my property line.”
The city of Hailey worked with Ketchum developer Jim Warjone for months in 2017 to create the High-Density Residential Overlay district on four blocks of North River Street in the Business zone. The overlay was passed despite strong opposition from neighbors. Since that time, no building-permit applications have been submitted for that overlay boundary.
Cone followed on Warjone’s success by convincing city leaders to abandon the maximum 20-unit-per-acre limit on housing developments. The Hailey City Council eventually approved the Downtown Residential Overlay district, allowing up to 50 housing units per building, as small as 200 square feet each, in an area that encompasses a two-and-a-half- to three-and-a-half-block-wide swath of the central downtown core, nearly 1.5 miles long, from Albertsons grocery store to the Hailey Post Office.
“The number of units [in a development] is directly related to feasibility,” Cone said.
But now that the zoning change is coming to fruition, some neighbors are pushing back against what they see as an excessively large and imposing building.
“No one else is proposing this sort of thing,” said Walnut Avenue homeowner James Mitchell. “This will put a huge population on a small piece of land in a neighborhood that doesn’t want it.”
Sara Gress, a firefighter and a ski patrolwoman, said she was lucky to secure housing for herself when she purchased a townhome off North River Street for under $200,000.
“I have had multiple friends who have been kicked out for Airbnbs [short-term rentals],” Gress said. “When it comes down to it, nobody wants us in their backyard.”
Michelle Preuss, a social worker with the Blaine County School District, said it is “extremely important” to create housing for families.
“Homelessness is on the rise with students,” she said.
Yet there is no guarantee that units in a new privately-funded apartment complex would not be rented out for more lucrative short-term periods, said Hailey Community Development Director Lisa Horowitz.
“I would like to find a legal way for the city to restrict apartments such as these from short-term rentals. That would go against the reason for the Downtown Residential Overlay district,” Horowitz said.
Blaine County Housing Authority Executive Director Nathan Harvill said cities do have tools to ensure that new apartment housing remains available for long-term housing.
“The city could offer a benefit in exchange for a prohibition on short-term rentals,” Harvill said.
The Hailey P&Z tabled the West Crescent project, asking Cone for details on what size building would be possible on the property without a zoning change. The P&Z also asked Cone for renderings of the proposed building from the west, from China Gardens.
P&Z Commissioner Richard Pogue said he would vote against the project as presented.
“I am serious about the need for housing, but we have to consider the impacts on existing housing,” Pogue said.
Commissioner Sam Linnett said he thought the project was “well thought out,” fulfilled the city’s criteria for approval and that he was ready to vote on it.
“Everyone is for housing, but when a project comes before us people come out against it. Then a four- or five-hundred-thousand-dollar home is built on the property instead,” Linnett said.
If the rezone is approved for the West Crescent project, the building would still have to pass design review at the P&Z level to proceed.