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The lead developer of the proposed Bluebird Village workforce-housing project in downtown Ketchum has revised the design of the project to include elements of traditional and modern architecture.

After years of planning, a 56-unit workforce-housing development in downtown Ketchum is scheduled to be formally reviewed by the city.

The Ketchum Planning & Zoning Commission will conduct a pre-application design review of the proposed Bluebird Village residential project on Tuesday, May 11, at 4:30 p.m. The pre-application review is conducted as a means for the P&Z to provide comments and direction to the developer about the project before a final application for approval is considered.

Seattle-based GMD Development—working in partnership with the Ketchum Community Development Corp.—is proposing to develop two buildings totaling about 60,000 square feet at 480 East Ave., the site of Ketchum City Hall and the headquarters of the Ketchum Fire Department.

“It’s exciting. It’s been a long time coming,” said Greg Dunfield, president and owner of GMD Development.

The city has purchased an office building at Fifth Street and Second Avenue to serve as a new administrative and police headquarters and is building a new fire station at a city-owned property on Saddle Road. Ketchum plans to move all those operations later this year, opening up the East Avenue property.

The project plans include two four-story buildings—with a maximum height of about 51 feet—that would offer a combination of 35 one-bedroom units, 16 two-bedroom units and five three-bedroom units, ranging in size from 640 to 1,130 square feet. The residential units would be built on three floors over a ground floor that includes offices, 2,400 square feet of commercial space, 49 parking spaces and 110 bicycle spaces. Amenities for residents include patios, storage lockers, e-bike charging stations, a community room, an exercise room and a rooftop deck.

The two buildings would be connected by a skybridge on the third level.

The buildings will be “all electric—with no fossil-fuel systems,” Dunfield said. Plans include a common hot water system with solar photovoltaic panels to supplement energy requirements.

After looking at several locations, bidding on the project and developing a funding model, Dunfield last winter conducted public meetings to gather input on the plan. Several changes were made based on public comments, Dunfield said. The design was changed to reflect “historic overtones,” the fourth floors were set back and scaled back, external materials were updated, parking was increased and screening of external decks was added, he said.

“We really tried to listen to the feedback we got,” Dunfield said.

The Bluebird Village project has several moving components. If approved, the existing city structure would be demolished. The city has approved an “option to lease” the East Avenue property to the Ketchum Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization that works on revitalization projects in the city. If the option is exercised this year, the Community Development Corporation and GMD Development would own the buildings as partners. GMD Development has been awarded federal tax credits that would assist in offsetting the overall costs of the project. The project could also use a solar-energy tax credit. After 16 years, GMD would exit the project and full ownership of the buildings would go the Community Development Corporation, on the city-owned land.

GMD Development hopes to start demolition and construction in the fall, Dunfield said, with building completion targeted for the end of 2022.

The city has reserved $1.4 million from its Housing In-Lieu Fund—money collected from developers who pay the city instead of building required workforce housing—to potentially assist in some expenditures. The Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency has reserved some $565,000 to potentially fund infrastructure work on the project.

With oversight from the city, the project would implement a “local preference policy” that targets workers at a variety of income levels in the workforce, based on the area median income at the time. Based on 2020 median income in Blaine County, monthly rents would range from $660 to $943 for a one-bedroom unit, $785 to $1,120 for a two-bedroom unit and $900 to $1,290 for a three-bedroom unit, Dunfield said. The numbers would likely change when based on 2022 incomes—reflecting the potential year of project completion—and utility allowances, he said.

Units would likely be rented on one-year lease terms, in accordance with the federal Fair Housing Act. The project would be governed by a 40-year agreement that requires the owners to manage the buildings as workforce housing.

Public comment on the project has ranged from broad support to strong disapproval. Dozens of letters and emails have been submitted to the city since last August, many of them expressing opposition.

“My family has owned and operated a local business in Ketchum for over 15 years,” states a Feb. 9 letter to the city from George Golleher. “We have expanded our business over this time period and today employ 57 people, many of whom reside in Ketchum. I am 100% against Bluebird, and do not want the community to believe that all the businesses in town are in support, despite the mayor’s assertions.”

Some letters critique the location of the project, some criticize the design and some oppose the potential impact on parking in the area.

Dunfield said the impact on public parking will be mitigated some by the relocation of city employees, a reduction in the number of people commuting into Ketchum and the prediction that the peak parking demand for Bluebird Village will be at night. He also points to the project’s efforts to promote alternative transportation methods and its proximity to bus routes.

Some supporters for the project have come forward, too.

“Having local housing in the core makes perfect sense to me,” a Jan. 27 email to the city from commenter Chase Hamilton states.

Dunfield said he has tried to rectify the concerns of residents and business owners. The development will be large, he concedes, but follows city zoning regulations while meeting a need.

“These opportunities don’t come up that often,” he said.

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