A dispute over parking has erupted into a full-fledged battle touching on some of the most important issues confronting Ketchum’s future—the vibrancy of the Wood River Community YMCA and the city government’s affordable-housing plans.
In recent weeks, the YMCA board, along with CEO Jason Shearer, has circulated online petitions seeking to galvanize support of residents to push back on Mayor Neil Bradshaw’s attempts to develop affordable housing on city-owned property north of the YMCA facility, on Saddle Road.
The project, called Northwood II, was submitted to the Idaho Housing and Finance Association for tax-credit financing last fall. IHFA opted not to fund the project, though another application is planned and is expected to be more favorably scored in 2019.
That project, coupled with a proposal to build a fire station on the south side of the YMCA and construction of a fire training facility on the east side of the property, spurred the YMCA’s concerns, Shearer said in an interview. Bradshaw has dropped all discussion of the south lot as a possible site for a planned new fire station.
Northwood II’s development plans would encompass the gravel parking lot north of the paved lot, adjacent to Saddle Road and several recycling containers.
On weeknights, when Y members have just gotten off work and are heading to work out, parking spaces are at a premium, and frequently cars spill over onto the gravel lot, Shearer said.
“The Y is vital and often a last line of defense for some of our community’s most vulnerable,” he said. “We need adequate parking.”
Shearer and board Chairman John Dondero said the YMCA was engaged in a planning process on a possible facility expansion last spring, but those discussions have been suspended.
Dondero said a master-planning process is needed to resolve the issues over parking and affordable housing. He said it’s vital that the Ketchum City Council lead that process.
The YMCA was constructed in 2006-07, but it first had to pass a vote by city residents in the November 2004 election. Because the city government owned the property, which was known as the Park ’n’ Ride lot, voters had to support a 99-year lease agreement for $1 a year.
The ballot language states, “Should the city of Ketchum enter into a 99-year lease for $1 a year with the YMCA for a recreational and cultural facility to be built and operated at no cost to the city on approximately 25 percent of the park n’ ride lot?”
The measure passed with 62 percent support. Dondero said the last master plan for the property was completed in 2005, and it featured affordable housing, a parking structure and a larger building footprint for the YMCA.
It’s past time to update those plans, he said.
“The path to that is proper planning,” he said. “The last plan that I’m aware of was done in 2005. There was a design for 30-40 affordable housing units. There was a 452-space parking structure. That was the master plan that was in place during the time we executed the second agreement with the city.”
In an interview, Bradshaw said the city government wants to ensure that the YMCA remains successful. He said affordable housing is compatible with ample parking and the YMCA’s facility expansion.
“We’re keen to find a shared vision with the YMCA,” he said. “I want the YMCA to be successful. They’re an important amenity within our town. We can’t do anything that’s to the detriment of the YMCA, but I think housing can be built in the dirt lot and be supportive of our town and of the YMCA.”
He emphasized that the city has no plans on either of the paved lots on the northern and southern sides of the YMCA building.
Bradshaw suggests constructing a multi-level parking structure as a solution, if the YMCA decides to pursue a capital campaign to fund a facilities expansion.
“We have to decide as a community what the best use of the space is,” he said. “We want the YMCA to be successful and sustainable. We want affordable housing. How can we achieve both on that land? They don’t know when and if they want to expand. I don’t want to hold up our ability to develop the dirt lot.”
Dondero said the idea of raising philanthropic donations to pay for a $3 million or $4 million parking structure is a nonstarter.
“We don’t think we can fundraise for a parking structure, nor do we think it should be our obligation to build one,” he said. “It’s wonderful to talk to donors about the Make-a-Splash program. It is not something that we can go to them and say, ‘Would you like to help us build a parking structure?’”
Bradshaw said the ballot language bolsters his case, including the stipulation that 25 percent of the Park ’n’ Ride lot would be used for the YMCA. That means the city retains its right to develop the other 75 percent. He said language in the original agreements also favor the city, though those contentions are disputed by the YMCA’s attorney, Ed Lawson.
Bradshaw said he does not want to see a legal dispute arise involving the city and the YMCA.
“I want us all to have a common vision—that has broad support across the community,” he said. “I don’t want to go down the legal argument route. There’s a good chance we may go again for those 9 percent tax credits. We’ve got six months to establish what we’ll want to do with that land, with housing being our priority.”
Dondero said the process should slow down to accommodate smart planning. He said the city required parking studies on areas of the property outside the YMCA’s 25 percent footprint, acknowledging the importance of parking to its future success.
Furthermore, he said that while many residents can get to the YMCA by walking, using the bus or riding their bikes, those options are not possible for some senior citizens, people with young children or infants, or people with disabilities.
“Providing parking for the Y was a priority and essential,” he said. “We’ve got free bike locks and pay for free bus trips. And yet, the lot is full. It’s full most of the winter. They’re all driving their cars.”
He also rejected the idea that the issue boils down to affordable housing versus parking. He said both can be accomplished with proper planning.
“Affordable housing versus Y parking—that is not the issue by any means,” he said. “We can accomplish both and more with planning.”