Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw has a bold-strokes proposal to get more affordable housing built in town, but it won’t come cheap.
On Monday, Bradshaw presented a new idea to the City Council. He proposed swapping a city-owned parking lot on Sixth Street and Leadville Avenue with a larger property owned by attorney Brian Barsotti on Northwood Way, next to the Sun Valley Community School’s dormitory in the third light-industrial district.
The Barsotti property is large enough that it could host a development of 75 to 80 units of housing, City Councilman Michael David said after the meeting.
“We’re getting more land, which can potentially lead to more housing once it gets developed,” Bradshaw said.
The City Council took the first step toward purchasing the Barsotti property by voting unanimously to approve a resolution declaring intent to sell and exchange its Sixth Street property.
The next step will come on Jan. 7, when the council will hold a public hearing on the proposed purchase. At that meeting, the council will decide whether to approve a purchase-and-sale agreement, City Attorney Matthew Johnson said.
Council members Amanda Breen and Jim Slanetz expressed some trepidation about the proposal, noting a difference in how the city and Barsotti evaluated the Northwood Way property.
A city-initiated valuation in September estimated the value of that property at about $2.4 million. In October, an owner-initiated appraisal estimated the value at $3.1 million.
Bradshaw’s proposal is to purchase the property for $3,036,200. The parking lot on Sixth Street is worth $1.49 million, according to a city staff report.
Therefore, the proposal is for the city to spend $1.55 million from its in-lieu housing fund to go toward the purchase and exchange. Finance Director Grant Gager said the city has $2.4 million in the fund, with $200,000 committed to other uses.
The fund receives payments from real estate developers who have to fulfill obligations to support community housing in Ketchum. It does not receive money from sales, property or other general tax revenues.
“We should be meeting more in the middle on this,” Slanetz said of the difference in property valuations. “The price is too high.”
Breen said it might provoke public backlash.
“I do share Jim’s concern,” she said. “The public is going to see those numbers in the paper and say, ‘That’s a big difference.’”
But, David and Councilwoman Courtney Hamilton said it would be worth the opportunity to obtain a larger piece of land. The city has offered the Sixth and Leadville property up for a potential housing development in recent years, but hasn’t found any interest from developers.
“This is a great location and you’ve got to start with land,” Hamilton said of Northwood Way. “At the end of the day, we need land so we can build units. At a certain point, you have to draw the line and make the call. It takes a long time to build a building.”
In March, Barsotti appeared before the Planning and Zoning Commission and said he wanted to build an apartment complex on the property, which is located at 290-298 Northwood Way.
The P&Z commissioners were just beginning their work on a rezone of the city’s three light-industrial districts. Barsotti pitched an idea of zoning that would permit 100 percent residential projects in the LI-3 district, which encompasses his property. The existing zoning allows for up to 66 percent residential projects.
“Obviously, there’s a housing crisis in Ketchum,” Barsotti told the commissioners. “I told Neil [Bradshaw] yesterday, give me an ordinance that works—let’s model this and I’ll try and get in the ground this year.”
The 100 percent residential proposal was dropped as the rezone of the L.I. districts advanced. The P&Z voted to recommend approval of the rezone to the City Council in October.
On Tuesday, Barsotti said he didn’t further pursue building the apartment complex due to the zoning restriction. He said he’s owned the property since 1990, and it’s most recently been used as a construction storage site for an Intermountain Gas project.
“The zoning doesn’t allow it at the moment,” Barsotti said of the apartment complex. “We’ve just been sitting tight on it. It’s really contingent on the re-zone. Until you know what you can do, it’s hard to talk to anybody.”
He said the opportunity for the exchange with the city came up; Bradshaw said Sixth and Leadville would continue to be a parking lot for several more years.
“I wasn’t looking for this,” Barsotti said. “It just arose. I think it’s a great opportunity for the city. We’ll see what happens. They could do a pretty nice project there.”
After the council meeting Monday, Bradshaw said Barsotti’s idea of developing an apartment complex was never seriously presented to the city.
“It didn’t go anywhere,” Bradshaw said. “He was just floating the idea to the P&Z. He wasn’t the developer. He never came in with any proposal. That was not progressing there.”
After the meeting, David said it was important for the city to retain control over the affordable-housing project’s specifications, including income categories and other details.
“We don’t have a lot of opportunity to buy land and control what goes on there,” he said.