Four candidates for mayor and five candidates for the City Council put forth their visions for Ketchum Wednesday night and discussed a range of issues, with a focus on what they would do to address an acute shortage of affordable housing.
In an online forum hosted by the Idaho Mountain Express, mayoral candidates David Barovetto, Perry Boyle, Spencer Cordovano and incumbent Neil Bradshaw issued a broad spectrum of ideas to address the housing crisis and to move the city forward amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
City Council candidates Amanda Breen, Mickey Garcia, Courtney Hamilton, Gwen Raney and Reid Stillman talked about what they think the city should focus on for the next four years. Incumbents Breen and Hamilton cited accomplishments over the last four years and expressed pride in their records at City Hall, including progress on workforce housing, infrastructure and transportation. The challengers said they offered an alternative, with Raney criticizing several actions the city took in recent years. Garcia spoke repeatedly about the need to develop affordable housing—as did all of the candidates—and Stillman said he wants to create a “positive” approach to city government that is “proactive, not reactive.”
Mayor candidates offer varying visions
In discussing proposals they would implement in their first year of office, the four candidates for mayor all touched on potential initiatives to procure affordable housing but also offered other ideas.
Bradshaw, 55, a businessman who has served on the governing boards of several nonprofit organizations, said he would “continue momentum” from his four years in office. That includes executing the purchase of 65 acres of open space at Warm Springs Ranch for a public park and raising additional funds for workforce housing through adjusting “in-lieu” payments developers make to offset obligations to include deed-restricted housing units in their projects. Bradshaw said he would also push to ensure the planned Bluebird Village workforce-housing project—which has been approved by the City Council—is completed.
Boyle, 58, a former financier who serves as chairman of a non-governmental organization, said his top priorities would be to establish a “locals-first” housing program and to revamp the city’s Planning & Building Department.
Cordovano, 33, the owner and operator of a video production company, said he would focus on hiring a housing director for the city, evaluating the city’s in-lieu housing fee and reviewing the use of development-impact fees, which are charged in conjunction with new projects.
Barovetto, 80, who has worked as an architect in the Wood River Valley for some 50 years, said he would work to procure affordable housing, in part by hiring a “housing czar,” and to promote environmental programs and recycling.
In further discussing how to address the shortage of affordable housing in Ketchum and the surrounding area, the candidates presented a range of potential actions.
Cordovano said he would make a push to encourage property owners to give long-term leases to locals instead of offering short-term stays and would seek “creative solutions” in making the housing issue his top priority.
Barovetto put forth an idea he calls the “pocket of potential,” a self-contained village for local workers that includes housing, a grocery store and links to public transportation. Barovetto has said the village—which would likely require special city approval or rezoning of land—could be tucked at the base of Ketchum hillsides, possibly near the Warm Springs area.
Bradshaw reiterated his ongoing work to change the in-lieu fee, adding that he would also issue requests for proposals to build housing projects on city-owned parcels of land and would add a housing director to the city staff.
Boyle said he would launch his “locals-first” housing program by taking control of the regional stock of deed-restricted housing units from the Blaine County Housing Authority and selling excess city property to buy existing housing units to add to the deed-restricted pool.
In assessing the Bluebird Village project planned for the site of City Hall on East Avenue, Barovetto said he supports keeping the city’s headquarters where it is. The city is scheduled to move into a new city hall on Fifth Street on Nov. 1.
“Bluebird is a good concept,” he said, but “it’s at the wrong location, and it’s bad business.”
Boyle said the Bluebird project is based on a flawed economic plan that costs the city too much money, in part because the city is endowing the valuable downtown site to the project.
“We can do better than Bluebird,” he said.
Bradshaw said developing affordable housing is a complex process that requires a “slug of money” to make projects economically feasible and Bluebird gets a “thumbs up.” The model using the land donation, tax credits and other funding has allowed the project to move forward, he said.
“The math is the math,” Bradshaw said.
Cordovano said he would have done the project differently, using a “cash-in, cash-out” financing model to have built a housing development in the city’s light-industrial district. Nonetheless, he said, the Bluebird project will help Ketchum in the future.
“We need to push this through,” he said. “I have no option but to support this project.”