Bluebird Village, a proposed low-income housing project, on the present City Hall/Fire Station and Police Department site in Ketchum is well on its way to becoming a reality. Construction is anticipated to start in late summer after approval from each of Ketchum’s governing bodies.
The AHC says YES to Community Housing —
NO to Bluebird Village
Why would an alliance that values community housing be against Bluebird Village? We believe Bluebird will have long-term negative effects on Ketchum’s community housing, putting our unique town on track to be just another mountain resort town.
We want to preserve what makes Ketchum all that it is, not throw it away to accommodate out-of-town developers who take advantage of what we offer and leave us with little in return.
Because Bluebird is opposed to the values and ethos of a small western “real town,” we believe:
• It’s too big — it will tower over the central retail core as downtown Ketchum’s largest building.
• It’s a bad financial deal — the City of Ketchum is handing over property worth more than $5 million to a for-profit, out-of-state developer while also giving the developer about $2 million cash up front. Plus, there will be long-term direct and indirect losses from lower property taxes.
• It’s in the wrong location — the retail core is called the retail core because it is the retail center of Ketchum. This vital area should not be displaced by a low-income housing project.
• It exacerbates our parking challenges — up to 112 new cars in the center of town with just 32 usable parking spaces. This is not responsible development.
• It’s low-quality housing — insufficient parking, no air conditioning, mostly window-less bedrooms, four stories of stairs with just one elevator. Bluebird has the look and feel of a college dorm, not of housing worthy of our neighbors.
• It’s segregated — it places a high concentration of low-income housing in a single location rather than integrating it throughout the community.
While the city presents Bluebird as the only option for community housing, we at the Affordable Housing Coalition of Ketchum believe that simply isn’t true. There are many ways to build and provide community housing, and we need to be focused and creative!
BLUEBIRD VILLAGE FAQs
What is the “Bluebird Village” Development?
It is a tax-credit and taxpayer funded low-income housing project to be built on the site of the current city hall by GMD, a Seattle developer of affordable housing.
What does the community think about Bluebird Village?
There is also a lot of debate on this project in the online version of the Express. For example, there are many comments to the Mayor’s 2/3/21 Guest Opinion HERE.
How much will Bluebird Village cost? Where will the funding come from?
Funding will come from the following:
Tax credits administered by the Idaho Housing Finance Authority (IFHA) in the amount of $11 million
The taxpayers of Ketchum (see below) to the tune of about $7 million
The sale of the retail/condo space is expected to generate about $1 million
The rest will need to be raised by the developer in some combination of debt and equity.
Why are they building Bluebird Village in this location?
According to Jade Riley on 2/19/21, there was no other site in the entire City of Ketchum that was appropriate for this project. Conveniently, the City had decided to move out of City Hall into a new location. This has required the building of a $9 million fire station abutting a residential neighborhood and across the street from a skate park/pore-school/church instead of in its current location. This left the site of City Hall surplus to use, and thus available for low-income housing. No other site was given serious consideration. No consideration was given to the value of this site and that, if sold at auction, it might create the opportunity to build superior community housing elsewhere.
The City says it is building Bluebird in the middle of the retail core because that’s what Ketchum citizens want. They say the Comprehensive Plan dictates that “housing should be integrated into the downtown core and light industrial areas and close to the ski bases.” Building segregated housing in the retail core does not seem particularly integrated into the community. The Comprehensive Plan does not say: “let a for-profit, out of state developer build the largest structure ever constructed in the center of Ketchum to create low-income housing at the taxpayers' expense with insufficient parking, no windows in some bedrooms and no air conditioning.” Something seems to be lost in translation.
Why not sell the City Hall property and choose a different location?
The City says that it is just too hard to do - See the article HERE. This was the easiest way for the City to get more community housing.
This begs the question whether we can ever build more affordable housing at a different location, given the City’s consistent failures to do so.
Why not build it South of Ketchum?
The City says it's because it doesn’t own appropriate property and might have to install municipal services. Placing housing further from the core employment center requires people to drive to and adds to urban sprawl and loss of open space. And it conflicts with Ketchum’s policy of reducing its carbon footprint.
And yet….those sites are on the bike path and bus line and are less than 5 minutes by bike to the downtown core.
Also not considered—the Quigley Canyon development in East Hailey which will bring 1,500 units of housing to the Wood River Valley.
Will this building need zoning waivers?
Unclear at this time. It may need at least a height waiver for the intended solar panels. Since 2006, the City code has permitted buildings as high as 52 feet if they are community housing. We think this is a bad zoning incentive and unnecessary. Buildings that high will tower over the usual three stories of a downtown Ketchum building and irrevocably change the nature of our small mountain town.
What are the taxpayers of Ketchum contributing to Bluebird Village?
• Somewhere north of $9 million.
• They are leasing the site to the KCDC for $1/year for up to 99 years. This will ensure that the site is used for low income housing in perpetuity. The city has done no recent appraisal of the site and has no plans to (Jade Riley, 2/18/21). We know of at least one all cash bid of $4 million for the site, and believe based on discussion with realtors and developers, that the site would go in excess of $5 million at auction.
• KURA, the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency, a public agency, will fund over $500,000.
• The City of Ketchum (Ketchum taxpayers) will fund approximately $1.5 million.
• While Bluebird will pay property tax, given that this site will not be built to its highest economic use and will likely be valued far below market value (free land from the City), there will be a permanent property tax short fall between what it pays and what it could have generated for the City.
• This is also true for LOT taxes.
Who will build Bluebird Village?
The City issued an RFP for a developer to build tax credit funded housing in Ketchum, with a two week response period. The only bidder was GMD of Seattle, WA, owned by Gregory Dunfield. GMD was the developer of Northwoods place in 2010. We have heard from multiple in-state developers of similar housing that they did not have a reasonable time period to respond to this RFP. It seems that, for some reason, only GMD was in a position to bid.
Who will own Bluebird Village?
A partnerships managed by the Ketchum Community Development Corporation (KCDC), that is mostly owned by the developer, GMD of Seattle. There will also be investors who buy the tax credits to fund the construction of the building.
How much will the developer / owner of Bluebird Village make?
None of the economics of this project have been disclosed to the public, despite this being a publicly funded project. Ms. Frick of the City staff has called this “a private development on public property" (Dec 2020). According to the City’ FAQs on the project on development costs alone the developer can make up to 15% of the project cost. The norm in Idaho is 8%. They will also make some unknown return as the owner of the project.
What happens at the end of 15 years?
GMD intends to exit the project after 15 years, and then KCDC will be the sole owner. It is unclear whether KCDC will need to make any payments to GMD at that time to guarantee the developer a minimum rate of return.
Who will live in Bluebird Village?
The city has said that there will be a local preference policy. IHFA officials on 2/18/21 said that may not be possible per the Fair Housing Act given the use of tax credits to build Bluebird.
That will be determined by the project management company (KCDC) based on IHFA income guidelines. We have no idea who will live in Bluebird other than they will be selected based on their income, Where they work is not a requirement, On 2/9/21 the developer said he anticipated only single adults would live in Bluebird and that he included the 3 bedroom units to qualify for the tax credits.
IHFA and the developer have said that multi-bedroom apartments could be occupied by roommates.
It could very well be that what we read in the comments in the Express are correct, that the residents of Bluebird will be the hotel workers that PEG brings in from around the country to work at their Marriott.
How much will it cost to live in Bluebird Village?
The developer has no information on that. KCDC has no information on that.
The City, which will not own or manage Bluebird, says that rents will run between $694/mo for a 1BR apartment up to $1,355 for a 3BR apartment, based on tenants with incomes ranging from 50% to 70% of the area median income (AMI). These rents will be adjusted for the AMI when the building is rented out.
The developer has said there will be extra charges for pets.
It is unclear if a pricing mechanism will be used to allocate the parking spots.
Where will Bluebird Village residents park?
There are 46 parking spots for 56 units.
Fourteen of the parking spots are “tandem” which means they are blocked in by another car. Any cars above those that don't want to move on a daily basis or get one of the 32 usable spots will be parked on the street.
If each unit is occupied by two adults (some are 2 and 2 bedrooms), that could be up to 112 cars vying for 32 spaces in the building, with up to 80 cars parked on the street of the retail core.
Will all the residents work in Ketchum?
Not necessarily. Legally, there can be no requirement for a resident to work in Ketchum. The housing has income limits, not work requirements.
Can Bluebird Village residents sub-lease?
Under current law, no. But it is unclear how the City plans to enforce this, given their history of selective enforcement of many real estate related regulations.
Why is there 2,000 sq ft of retail space in Bluebird?
Plain and simple: Zoning. You can’t built a solely residential building in that zone—its first floor street frontage has to be retail. In other words, they put in retail so they could build it where they are building it.
Will this be a “Green Building?”
Maybe. The developer has talked about solar panels, e-bike charging stations, bike parking and a car sharing program. However, none of the plans show any of this in deployment. Also, it will be energy efficient in that many of the bedrooms will have no windows, and none of the units will be air-conditioned. This is all per the developer on 2/9/21.
Won’t Bluebird Village be just like Northwoods?
No. Northwoods was built in a more residential area, not in the retail core. Northwoods is 32 units in a footprint larger than that of Bluebird. It is only three stories. All of its bedrooms have windows.
Northwoods provides covered parking for each of its units. It is on the bike path and by a bus stop. It is architecturally in sympathy with its surroundings. There is no retail space at Northwoods.
The things Northwoods and Bluebird have in common are the same developer and that they were financed in part with tax credits and are thus income-restricted housing.
Given the P&Z's rejection of the Solstice Project at Hot Dog Hill, will they reject Bluebird Village?
One would think the answer to this was an obvious “of course!” The P&Z, rejected Solstice*, stating that its scale is out of character with the town, based on a well-reasoned report from the City staff. Bluebird is in the same zoning district, and it’s 3x as large. So it seems obvious that Bluebird would also be out of character with the town.
Unfortunately the answer is “no”. Suzanne Frick said at the 2/18/21 opening meeting on Bluebird that the Solstice denial is not a precedent for Bluebird. She said the city does not have to employ consistent standards to projects, and can evaluate any project any way they would like. We can take a hint what that means. The City Council can override the P&Z Commission.
But if you want to see the City staff’s argument against Solstice, and an analysis for why P&Z wouldn’t approve Bluebird if they were consistent in their approach, CLICK HERE.
If you want to see our interpretation of how that would apply to Bluebird, that’s RIGHT HERE.
*The Affordable Housing Coalition of Ketchum has no position on Solstice.
What happens next?
Sometime in the near future, GMD will present its plan to P&Z. The City staff will review that plan and make a recommendation to the P&Z to approve or deny the plan. That vote will take place in a regularly scheduled public P&Z meeting. Their meetings are posted on ketchumidaho.org, but you have to pay attention as they don’t alway post their agendas more than 24 hours in advance.
Given the notoriety of this project and the importance of creating the appearance of public input, it is possible that P&Z will hold a public “workshop” special meeting on Bluebird before they formally consider it for a vote.
Where can I get more information on Bluebird Village?
The developer has put up a website. But so far, there is nothing on there other than the elevations and a description of the building.
Neil Bradshaw, Mayor
Amanda Breen, Council President
Michael David, Councilor
Courtney Hamilton, Councilor
Jim Slanetz, Councilor