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Ketchum city council approves large affordable housing project

A rendering of the Bluebird Village housing project in downtown Ketchum.
GMD Development presentation
A rendering of Bluebird Village, an affordable housing project in downtown Ketchum.

The Ketchum City Council approved an affordable housing project Monday evening that will bring 51 new apartments to the city center. Deed restrictions will help keep rents at rates workers can afford.

Bluebird Village rentals will range from studios to three-bedroom apartments in two adjacent downtown buildings on the lot of the soon-to-be-former city hall.

The project has been in the works for three years, but the process only moved forward once Ketchum and the developer, Seattle-based GMD Development, were awarded a competitive 9% low-income housing tax credit last year from the Idaho Housing Finance Association.

Because of high land and construction costs in Ketchum, which were driven up even more during the pandemic, city officials and developers have said the combination of the tax credits and city-owned land are what make this affordable housing project possible.

The building will target people making between 50% and 70% of the area median income. Depending on income levels, rent for a one-bedroom apartment would cost between approximately $660 and $980.

“It’s an inclusive product. It’s a product that will allow more people to contribute to the character and vibe of Ketchum,” said Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw.

More than 40 local businesses have endorsed the project. Several have said their future depends on more housing for workers.

“If we don’t get any employee housing in the pipeline, we won’t be open at all,” Paige Lethbridge, an owner of The Cellar Pub, wrote in a recent public comment.

Ketchum’s Planning and Zoning Commission approved the design of the building in August, and the city council’s vote Monday evening affirmed that decision. The building has four floors, and will have retail units on the first floor. It will also include 46 parking spaces.

Throughout Bluebird’s review process, opponents have been vocal about the size and design of the building, and the impacts to downtown parking. Many have said they support affordable housing projects, in general, but not Bluebird.

“Bluebird is in the wrong place and will change Ketchum’s retail core forever,” reads a petition started by the Affordable Housing Coalition, an LLC opposed to the project.

Perry Boyle, listed as President of that group’s board, is challenging Bradshaw for mayor in November’s election.

During Monday’s council meeting, he cited concerns with the financing of the project, including that the city is giving up valuable downtown real estate.

“The site alone is worth over $10 million,” he said.

He also said Ketchum can’t guarantee the occupants work locally. City staff said they are developing a local preference policy, but they still have to adhere to the federal Fair Housing Act.

Some of Boyle’s other concerns, such as that wealthy second-home owners would be able to live in Bluebird Village apartments by working around the system, were refuted by city council members and the project developer.

Before the developer submits for a building permit, the council will review the lease of the property and the city's own financial contribution during meetings in Oct. and Nov. Last year, the Idaho Mountain Express reported the building would cost about $22 million, and that the city and urban renewal agency would contribute about $2 million.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen 

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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