Dozens of Wood River YMCA board members and patrons sat in the back of the room at the Ketchum City Council meeting on Monday, as YMCA CEO Jason Shearer addressed city leaders.
“Essential to a good planning process, the city must accommodate the basic parking needs of the YMCA,” Shearer said. “Absent those essential components, the Y cannot and will not support the bond.”
After he spoke, the crowd of YMCA affiliates filed out.
Shearer was referring to the proposed $11.5 million bond for a new fire station that will be voted on in Ketchum on Nov. 5. If a two-thirds majority votes “yes” on the bond, construction on the facility would begin in May 2020 and could wrap up the following summer.
Proponents of the bond say the proposed location on the city’s “Park and Ride” lot along Saddle Road is more than ideal, with access to main city arteries such as state Highway 75 and Warm Springs Road.
Other bond supporters say that with the current fire station’s structural deficits and buildup of toxic fumes, the health and safety of Ketchum’s first-responders is in serious jeopardy—and the city has no choice but to start anew.
However, the YMCA is also on the city-owned lot, and officials are worried that the organization could lose essential parking adjacent to the facility. Shearer said that while the Wood River YMCA is supportive of the city providing firefighters with an updated facility, a parking plan for the entire “Park and Ride” lot should be solidified first.
And, he said, the city’s current agreement to provide 150 parking spots in the area is not enough, considering future YMCA expansion plans.
In 2005, the YMCA crafted a 99-year lease and parking agreement with the city that ensured it could eventually go through with an expansion into a larger building footprint.
“Though expansion is on hold at the moment, we know our new facility will be geared towards team sports and we will have large groups of people coming in,” YMCA Board Chairman John Dondero said on Tuesday. “We need the city to accommodate these individuals and provide more certainty [on parking].”
He said the concern over too few parking spots on the lot is not just specific to the Y.
“Between [Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood] members and recreationalists, people already use more than 170 parking spaces in the lot. With an added fire station, there will be a need to provide well over 200 spaces,” he said.
In a recently proposed amendment, the YMCA asked the city to provide 150 spaces on the “Park and Ride” lot and 50 more in the vicinity. (In previous drafts, the Y’s proposed amendment was not contingent on the passage of the bond but board members redrafted it last Friday.)
The YMCA also asked the city to choose one development site on the “Park and Ride” for possible development and leave the other for parking.
“In order to preserve a reasonable number of on-site parking spaces for the YMCA and the public, the city shall restrict the location of city development to either the northern or southernmost portions of the development parcel …” the amendment stated.
But Mayor Neil Bradshaw said in a Tuesday interview that the YMCA does not have the jurisdiction to make that kind of decision for an entire parcel of land, and the request has generated legal issues preventing the city from signing on.
“We can’t give private entities such as the Y the discretion to restrict development, and we can’t say we’ll need to ask YMCA permission to build—it’s city-owned land,” Bradshaw said. “The question is, how do we structure a legal agreement to reassure them that they will have land designated for parking?”
Bradshaw added that the draft agreement needs to be a joint effort, not an ultimatum, and will need to go through the City Council process for deliberation and public transparency. He said that the city has so far catered to the number of parking spots the YMCA has requested.
“The [YMCA] board has publicly stated they would require 150 spots to support their operations. We’ve agreed—we want them to be successful,” he said.
As it stands, the draft parking amendment—put together by the city attorney and an attorney from the YMCA—guarantees 150 public parking spaces within the vicinity and says the city will increase that number to 200 once the YMCA completes its expansion.
Dondero said it was disheartening to hear that the city will not accept the Y’s proposed changes.
“I expect the city will come around,” he said. “It would be simple for them to meet the terms of the amendment.”
Bradshaw said he was disappointed the YMCA has prioritized its own needs ahead of public safety by using bond opposition as collateral, and found its change in tune puzzling.
“The Y has consistently said they would support a fire station being built on the development parcel, because it would have the lowest impact on their parking demands,” he said.
“However, I am hopeful that we will finalize an agreement shortly and get everyone on the same page in time for the election.”