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This rendering depicts the parking garage entrance of developer Jack Bariteau’s First Avenue and Fourth Street project, looking from the northwest side.

A mixed-use building proposed by developer Jack Bariteau is gaining momentum after the Ketchum City Council unanimously approved an alley vacation, preliminary plat agreement and development agreement applications Monday.

The roughly 38,000-square-foot project—planned for an empty lot south of the First Avenue and Fourth Street intersection—would house employees from MAKR Hospitality, the management firm in line to operate Bariteau’s future Harriman Hotel at the southern entrance to town.

In order to build his luxury hotel, Bariteau is under an agreement with the city to provide at least 18 beds for employees. He plans to meet that minimum by dedicating 15 units in the First Avenue building to workforce housing, leaving the remaining 20,000 square feet for commercial space and penthouse apartments. And, despite the fact that Ketchum does not require parking spots for units under 750 square feet, Bariteau has proposed a 32-car parking garage as a primary point of access.

To build the garage, which would be partly underground, a 110-by-30-foot section of adjacent alley connecting Fourth Street with Sun Valley Road would need to be vacated. At a 10 percent grade, the alley is too steep to allow safe vehicular passage during winter months; historically, the city has plowed and stored snow on its northern end, effectively dead-ending it.

Since October, partial vacation of dead-end alleys has been allowed in the Community Core district under Ketchum city code, though the new alley ordinance stipulates that all vacations must be in the public interest. Thus, the City Council spent most of Bariteau’s hearing trading thoughts on whether clearing the alley would amount to substantial public benefit.

Both Bariteau and neighboring property owner Charlie Holt have agreed to split the cost of alley maintenance between them and are on the hook for implementing sidewalk and engineering improvements. One of those upgrades, Bariteau said, is a pedestrian walkway that would be kept free of snow and ice using a hydronic snowmelt system.

That feature—which would use a boiler powered by natural gas—generated some kickback from the council and public on Monday evening.

“I’m not going to support this project if it incorporates snowmelt,” Councilwoman Courtney Hamilton said. “We have to pay more attention to the impact we have on climate change, and this [snowmelt] system doesn’t make sense.”

Councilwoman Amanda Breen also expressed uncertainty.

“We obviously need more information and expert opinions on this issue,” she said.

Bariteau countered what he said were incorrect assumptions about the snowmelt feature, which he already has in place at his Colonnade and Christiania buildings.

“My offer to snowmelt the alley is based on years of success,” he said.

Bariteau also pointed to other benefits of his project: employee housing, using existing curb cuts and increased pedestrian access.

But attorney Jim Speck, representing a neighboring property owner, said in a public-comment session that his client needed a say in the alley vacation before project approval.

“No one has contacted us to review the terms of [Bariteau’s] alley maintenance agreement,” he said. “The current alley certainly has its faults, but it does provide vehicle and pedestrian access for at least half of the year.”

Neighbor Carol Thielen also asked why she hadn’t been contacted for feedback. She said that with her neuropathy, she can’t walk to the post office, and the alley has provided an easy route to drive there.

“To give up the use of this alley so it benefits one private project is unfair,” she said.

Prior to the 4-0 council vote, Mayor Neil Bradshaw said Bariteau would commission “significant” engineering work, after which snow-removal details could be hashed out in a future alley maintenance agreement.

Neighbors’ concerns would also be taken into account before moving forward, he said.

“Their needs will be protected in subsequent agreements. If you find the alley maintenance agreement not satisfactory next year, you can withhold [Bariteau’s] building permit,” Bradshaw told the council.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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