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A Forest Service warehouse built in 1936 on River Street in Hailey is now home to the Wood River Sustainability Center. It could soon be demolished to make room for a parking lot.

The Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday told a development team intent on demolishing or relocating a historic Forest Service building in order to build a parking lot that it needs to go back to the drawing board.

The commission cited incomplete application criteria for a design review of the parking lot as well as a desire to save the building in its decision to continue the hearing to Oct. 28.

“We have an opportunity to preserve this building,” P&Z Chairwoman Janet Fugate said. “Other options will provide additional parking.”

A separate amended development agreement that could pave the way for a new 26-space parking lot on the site is pending before the City Council and will be reviewed during a public hearing on Thursday.

Monday’s P&Z design review application of a plan by FAPO Holdings Idaho to remove one of its four remaining 1930s-era U.S. Forest Service buildings between River Street and Main Street drew vociferous public opposition.

“There is already a plethora of parking in Hailey,” said Cameron Ellis. “Demolishing this building would have an absolutely degrading effect on Hailey.”

Jeremy Lange is a listing agent for FAPO’s adjacent Village at Hailey Center mixed-use commercial complex at 314 S. River St. He said the three-story, 26,000-square-foot building there is only 30 percent occupied due to a lack of parking.

“It is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed,” Lange said.

Lange and his partner Matt Engel proposed removing the former Sawtooth National Forest Service warehouse building that now is home to the Wood River Sustainability Center to make way for about 16 additional parking spaces.

A 2009 amended development agreement for FAPO’s multiple properties in the Forest Service Block of Hailey includes changes to the on-site parking design to accommodate the retention of the Forest Service building. The amendment was made by previous owner John McGowan, now deceased.

Engel, who also represents FAPO, said at the meeting that the proposed new amendment would provide protections for three other Forest Service buildings on the block that could be relocated, using contributions from the developer, to another site in Hailey.

The city requires a 120-day waiting period before demolishing a historic building to allow for its relocation by an interested party.

Hailey Arts and Historic Preservation Commissioner Frank Rowland made a plea to the P&Z and the FAPO development team to retain the entire compound of four historic buildings “in place,” but conceded that his commission has no legal authority to enforce such a preservation project.

“These Forest Service buildings are unique nationwide because the federal government has disposed of most of them,” Rowland said.

A similar Forest Service compound has been preserved in Ketchum and houses a museum and offices at Forest Service Park, one block west of Main Street.

Blaine County Historical Museum President Bob McCleod spoke against demolishing any of the Forest Service buildings, saying the architectural heritage of Hailey is the “life blood” of the city.

The Village at Hailey Center has the required 49 parking spaces, some of which are on-street parking that soon could be developed more adequately, Community Development Director Lisa Horowitz said.

Lange said nine parking spaces have been taken over by FAPO tenant Smokey Bone Barbecue, and other spaces designated for the Village at Hailey Center have been compromised for various reasons and are now “unfeasible.” He said designated on-street parking is difficult to enforce.

Lange said an alternative plan discussed in recent weeks to develop parking across River Street was abandoned due in part to potential dangers that his tenants could face while crossing the street.

“If crossing the street is dangerous, then this is something I achieve every day,” P&Z Commissioner Dan Smith said.

Smith said Village at Hailey Center developer John McGowan had been “wildly optimistic” when designing the complex in 2007.

“Unfortunately, John didn’t follow up on underground parking, or your problem would’ve been solved,” Smith said.

“I agree,” Engel said.

While Smith and fellow P&Z Commissioner Owen Scanlon entertained a discussion about the feasibility of relocating the building, and the entire compound, to a new site, the commission was generally inclined to instead support better management of existing allotted parking spaces.

“This need for demolition has been created by you guys, and every public comment we have received has been against your [proposed] parking lot,” P&Z Commissioner Sam Linnet told the development team.

Linnet said stricter enforcement of FAPO’s existing parking spaces would be an “easier solution” than demolishing the historic structure.

P&Z Commissioner Richard Pogue said removing the Forest Service building to make way for parking for one potential commercial tenant would likely be a “permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

“The heritage of this community is much more important to us than a parking lot,” Pogue said.

Wood River Sustainability Center owner Al McCord said in an interview that after six and a half years in the building, he is considering other locations.

“I have to feed my family, so we’re making plans based on the information that’s coming in,” McCord said.

Email the writer: tevans@mtexpress.com

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