19-08-14 ketchum boutique hotel @ W.jpg

This artist’s rendering shows the proposed hotel as it would be seen from the Best Western Plus Kentwood Lodge, on the corner of Highway 75 and River Street. The Limelight Hotel is pictured to the right.

Though action by the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday advanced a proposed Marriott hotel project at the southern entrance to the town, some opposition remains from nearby homeowners and other residents.

A unanimous vote from the P&Z to formally accept the findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding decisions made at a previous meeting moved consideration of the hotel’s conditional-use permit and planned-unit development agreement to the City Council.

About two dozen people filed into City Hall on Monday to weigh in on the project, proposed for 260 E. River St., at the corner of Main Street.

If given the green light, the proposed 135,000-square-foot hotel would open its doors in 2021 and incorporate 100 rooms, 30 beds for employees, a restaurant and a rooftop bar.

It would also become the 10th Marriott hotel built in the Rocky Mountain region by Provo, Utah,-based developer PEG Cos., according to the firm’s website, and would join Marriott’s prestigious “Autograph Collection” of luxury hotels and resorts.

Located across from the Limelight Hotel and kitty-corner to the Best Western, the Marriott would be the fourth hotel at the intersection of Main and River streets. That’s assuming a planned luxury hotel on the east side of Main Street is completed by developer Jack Bariteau. It has been approved but not built.

While Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw has applauded the PEG initiative, several attendees had serious questions for the P&Z.

Longtime Wood River Valley resident Jima Rice asked the four commissioners present to consider quality of life over tourism.

“We are not a purely tourist-oriented economy, and we’re making a mistake when we continue that,” she said. “If we aim the economy simply towards four hotels at the entrance to Ketchum, up a steep hill with traffic, I don’t think we’re thinking about quality of life here.”

Ketchum resident Robert Rudy wanted to know how the four-story building could handle the spring snowmelt that he says would saturate the property.

“I’d like to know how bad we’re going to get ground seepage on spring runoff from Trail Creek,” he said.

Dubbed the “Gateway Parcel” for marking Ketchum’s southern entrance, the hotel property backing up to Trail Creek is in the city’s Tourist zone—yet current hotel blueprints do not meet four zoning requirements.

The would-be infringements include building on one acre, two acres short of the three-acre minimum; building 10 feet closer to River Street than allotted; exceeding the maximum floor-area ratio of 1.6; and, perhaps the most controversial, more than doubling the structure’s height from the 35-foot maximum to 72 feet.

Under Ketchum code, all four property conflicts can be resolved with waivers granted by the city.

The commission has already approved the hotel floodplain development and waterways design-review permit. Before the developer moves ahead with hefty investments, however, Director of Planning John Gaeddert said he wants to make sure the City Council is on board with the current design and plans.

“What we don’t know is if the City Council has any appetite for anything, whether it’s the setbacks or access points,” he said. “That’s one of the key reasons to get this to council—they are the final decision makers.”

Recent public opinion has generally skewed in favor of developing the Gateway site, though not in its currently proposed form. In previous P&Z meetings, Ketchum residents have voiced concern about the building’s potential to block sunlight and mountain views, contribute to traffic congestion and complicate parking for local homeowners.

At least four residential structures on the property would need to be demolished, and construction would likely slow traffic flow on River Street. In addition, as reported by Hales Engineering—a firm hired by PEG in a $7,150 contract to investigate potential traffic impact—the Marriott would generate 704 additional daily trips on Highway 75 once it’s open and all access would be limited to River Street, causing excessive delays.

Property owner Susan Sahlberg said she envisions significant traffic delays even after the hotel is completed.

“It would make the street we live on not traffic-friendly,” she said.

The possibility of lane expansion on Highway 75 was also considered Monday.

“I use Leadville [Avenue] to get into town quicker when traffic backs up on the hill. Is this project going to leave enough space to adequately put in four lanes, plus turning signals?” Rudy asked the panel in a return trip up to the lectern.

Given the public’s lingering displeasure surrounding the unfinished Bariteau project, PEG Development Manager Nick Blayden said prescribed checkpoints overseen by PEG and the city will ensure the hotel is built in a timely, safe manner.

“We expect this build to take 16-19 months,” he previously wrote.

P&Z Commissioner Matthew Mead expressed approval for PEG’s checkpoint system and alluded to a lack of faith in development among residents due to the halted project across Main Street.

“I think the practice of using this agreement to avoid situations that have come about thus far in recent history—projects not getting completed in a timely basis—gives me a level of assurance,” he said.

In June, PEG ran a survey by Ketchum residents to obtain community feedback, though the results were not clear. The firm has restated its commitment to sensitivity and ensuring the new hotel fits in with Ketchum’s aesthetic.

Some residents, like Rice, think a more sensitive option would be abiding by the zoning guidelines.

“If you think the Marriott should occupy this space, then rewrite your zoning laws and give the public a chance to react,” she told the P&Z, to light applause.

PEG has previous ties to Ketchum: In 2005, it built the 62,000-square-foot Frenchman’s Place, off Warm Springs Road behind Grumpy’s. In the past five years, it has opened six Hyatt-brand hotels in the West, in addition to chain restaurants such as Chili’s and Zaxby’s Chicken.

A series of hearings on the matter involving the P&Z and City Council will continue into the fall and winter, and if successful, PEG plans to begin construction next spring.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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