A plan to develop housing on part of the 78-acre Warm Springs Ranch in Ketchum—and to protect a vast swath of the property as a park—has been submitted to the city and is beginning on its path through the approval process.
Sun Valley developer Bob Brennan has put forth plans to establish 36 single-family home lots on a 14-acre parcel on the north side of the property, next to Warm Springs Road, and to sell the remaining 64 acres to the city to be preserved as open space and a preserve with public access. Brennan filed his development plans in December and presented them to the Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday in an informal “workshop” to get feedback from the panel.
“It’s my legacy,” Brennan told the P&Z. “I’m trying to do the best thing.”
The proposal is a major departure from previous plans to develop the iconic site, which wraps around the base of Bald Mountain between town and the Warm Springs entrance to the ski area. It once featured the popular Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant, tennis courts and a golf course along Warm Springs Creek. A development group decommissioned those facilities in the early 2000s and its replacement plans—including a new version of the popular restaurant—never came to fruition. In 2009, the city approved plans for 729,000 square feet of development on the site, including a 538,000-square-foot hotel on the northern parcel, where the restaurant and tennis courts once existed, and home lots on the golf course. The golf course acreage—on the south side of Warm Springs Creek—was annexed into the city from Blaine County.
With financing short, the plans evolved and the city granted the owner additional time—until December 2020—to complete the project. Brennan bought the property last April for what he told the P&Z was an “excellent price.” He then entered into negotiations to sell the 64 acres on the south side of the creek to the Hailey-based Wood River Land Trust but the deal did not complete the escrow process, Brennan told the P&Z.
The plans under review call for creating 36 lots set back from the creek—with new roads for access—and selling the site of the former golf course and some natural areas to the city. Twelve to 20 parking spaces for the public would be created and public access would be granted. The city could then establish some 85 percent of the property as a public preserve and possibly a dog park, one of its current uses.
“I want it to be a preserve and a park for everybody,” Brennan told the P&Z.
As part of the development plan, all the previous entitlements would be entirely voided and replaced with Brennan’s plan. Brennan said he could agree to have one partner build the houses or could sell the lots individually, his current preference. An HOA would govern the residential development.
“I want it to be a village,” he said.
Suzanne Frick, the city’s planning and building director, told the P&Z that negotiations to purchase the 64-acre, eight-parcel property on the south side of the creek are ongoing. City officials told the Idaho Mountain Express that an “option to purchase agreement” will be made public when Brennan’s application is formally considered by the P&Z on Feb. 23.
“The mayor and staff have been very supportive of this approach,” Frick told the P&Z.
Brennan said he is confident the deal with the city will be finalized and the end product could be “incredibly special.” As part of the application, the Tourist zoning on the planned residential parcel would be downzoned to General Residential-Low Density zoning. If the sale is not completed, the zoning of the remainder of the site would remain as Tourist and Recreational Use and Brennan would have the option to submit new applications to develop the eight parcels that are open space. Brennan said that is not his priority and that he will give the city time to finance and complete the purchase.
As for the unsuccessful sale of the 64 acres to the Wood River Land Trust, Brennan told the P&Z that he pursued the deal but “never got comfortable with their vision” for the property. Scott Boettger, executive director of the Land Trust, told the Idaho Mountain Express in August that plans for the site could include events—such as weddings and fundraisers—and possibly some new infrastructure—such as trails, a new pedestrian bridge and a nature center.
On Thursday, Boettger said he had a verbal agreement to buy the property for $9 million, but “something always held it up.” The deal ended in the fall.
In a Jan. 25 letter to the city, Boettger objected to the aspect of the application that allows Brennan to develop the 64 acres south of Warm Springs Creek if the sale to the city falls through, while no development plan for the area has been submitted. He requested that the city deny the application as submitted and rezone the 64 acres to Recreational Use, which would limit development.
He said Ketchum officials should work to ensure that the “most important block of open space in the city” is protected as a community asset, and not leave an option to develop the south side.
“I don’t want to see an open-ended agreement,” he said.
Brennan told the Idaho Mountain Express on Thursday that he is pushing forward with the sale to the city—at a lower price than the Land Trust deal—and would continue negotiations in the coming days. If the sale is completed, he would like to see the Land Trust work with the city to determine the vision for and appropriate uses of the protected land, he said.
“I’m not putting a plan there because I’m not planning to do anything there,” he said.
If he did develop the area, he said, it would be “minor development.” He said his preference is to have approval of his development for the 36 lots completed before he finalizes selling the remainder of the site, largely because he is “leaving money on the table” with the proposed downzone of the north side.
Brennan, who has lived in the Wood River Valley for 41 years and shepherded numerous developments, said he has good intentions for the high-profile plot.
“People just have to trust me on this,” he said. “I’m going to give the city plenty of time to accomplish this deal.”
Ultimately, the P&Z will make a recommendation about the application to the City Council, which will make a final determination on the plans.