River & Empty Saddle Apartments

A proposed 3-building, 28-unit apartment project along River Street would be surrounded by Albertsons, the Big Wood 4 Cinemas and Fairfield Inn. It would face River Street to the west and Empty Saddle Trail to the south.

The Hailey Planning & Zoning Commission sent a 28-unit apartment project back to the drawing board last week, praising several amenities but finding the complex too dense overall.

The three-story apartment project is proposed for a half-acre lot on the northeast corner of Empty Saddle Trail and River Street, just south of Albertsons. It comes from California-based developer Bruce Reichard, who was seeking only pre-approval of design plans this week; the next step will be a full design review.

If approved in its current format, the apartments would comprise three multifamily buildings with 22 one-bedroom units ranging in size from 540 to 700 square feet and six two-bedroom, 870-square-foot units.

According to project architect Rebecca Bundy, 12 of the 22 one-bedroom apartments would have additional office space and all units would have either a balcony or a patio. The six two-bedroom apartments would be on the third floor and front River Street, she said.

As far as colors and materials, Bundy said the entire first floor would feature brown, “western style” corrugated metal, while upper levels would have a lighter beige color with black balcony and window accents. All buildings would have framed gables to pull attention from the flat roofline, and “bump out” kitchen and bathroom areas to cut down the mass of the building.

The plan also includes 28 onsite parking spaces off Empty Saddle Trail, a paved gathering area with benches, a dog-relief area, a 5-foot sidewalk around the building perimeter and over 3,000 square feet of outdoor green space, Bundy said last Monday.

Bundy noted that Reichard is a second homeowner in the Wood River Valley who is “very invested” in addressing Hailey’s affordable housing shortage. Prior to drafting the plan, Reichard and the applicant team met with the Blaine County Housing Authority to determine renters’ needs, Bundy told the P&Z.

“Our client’s intent is to provide much-needed workforce housing in Hailey, with the goal of targeting our median income working population,” she said. “Apparently, the need is really for primarily one bedroom and some two bedrooms rental units.”

Bundy added that Reichard had assembled a development team similar to the one behind Silver River Apartments—herself and Susan Scovell as project architects and Paul Conrad of Conrad Brothers Construction as general contractor. Like Silver River Apartments, Reichard’s project would be all-electric, with no fossil fuels used for heating or appliances, she said.

“Our goal is to not install air conditioning. In my experience designing homes in Hailey over the years, we do not need it if we can keep the sun off the windows and insulate well,” she said. “The units stay cool, with the exception of possibly one short hot stretch in the summertime.”

The absence of a cooling system concerned P&Z Commissioner Dustin Stone.

“My opinion is that that will be pretty hard on the people living there,” he said.

Conrad noted that several single-family homes in Northridge do not have cooling systems.

“If you do a really good job with air exchange, solar control and insulation, you are looking at a very, very small window of any kind of discomfort,” he said. “All-electric is becoming the norm in many communities, especially in the West, for multifamily buildings. They’re more cost efficient and livable. At the end of the day, all you’re giving up is gas for cooking and certain elements of gas for heating.”

Neighbors who spoke during the public-comment session said they appreciated the project’s color scheme but were concerned about its density and small, 10-foot-by-10-foot bedrooms.

“You’re trying to squeeze too many people in there,” Hailey resident Dennis Potts told the P&Z, calling the 10-by-10 bedrooms “a Manhattan-sized accommodation.”

Hailey resident Brad Chinn, said he was worried about traffic generated by the project and would actively petition against it.

“This whole thing is not a good idea,” he said.

Nearby resident Susan Lawrenz said the complex “will ruin downtown Hailey.”

“People run the stop signs all the time going back and forth to Albertsons. I can’t imagine any more people living in this area. It’s dangerous, and it won’t be pretty,” she said. “The colors are nice, but that’s about all I can say.”

Fire Chief Mike Baledge told commissioners that the project met the building code for the downtown residential overlay district and complimented Reichard on his endeavor to build affordable units.

“The [applicants] have done a very good job to meet city code and fire code. I hope it goes forward. We need this,” he said.

Stone acknowledged homeowners’ concerns and asked Bundy to increase the number of two-bedroom units to “encourage more families to move in, instead of just supporting people who sleep there and then drive to Sun Valley each morning.”

“I understand what someone in this area would be feeling with lots of colorful, highly dense buildings popping up all around you,” he said. “I do think workforce housing is important, but it would probably be better if it was more like 30% here.”

P&Z Commissioner Richard Pogue suggested moving more 2-bedroom units to the bottom two floors.

“I would think it would be better not to have people walk up two stories with their kids, if we can avoid that,” he said.

Commissioner Owen Scanlon agreed that combining one-bedroom units into two-bedrooms would be more beneficial for working families. He also asked Bundy about potentially adding solar panels in the future.

Bundy said she was open to solar panels, but the design team had had limited success with the technology at Silver River due to Idaho Power’s net-energy-metering billing structure, which she described as cost-prohibitive.

Community Development Director Lisa Horowitz said the P&Z would address the metering issue at a future meeting.

“We are not going to see any solar on any multifamily building that is owned by a single owner until Idaho Power changes their policies,” Horowitz said. 

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