Community October 6, 2023

Looking Forward

Sun Valley Community School considers building staff housing in Elkhorn

Sun Valley Community School Head of School Ben Pettit presides over a school campus that borders a creek where students can conduct science experiments. He has an athletic field where student skiers can practice freestyle flips and soccer players can challenge competing teams.

He even has a residential dorm that hosts students from as far away as China.

What he does not have is assured housing that can seal the deal when hiring teachers.

He needs teachers to teach the school’s 440 students. But fewer people are pursuing teaching as a  career so the hiring market is becoming increasingly competitive.

“There’s been a decline over the last decade in terms of the number of college freshmen who consider education a viable career,” he said. “The challenges of COVID led to teachers retiring and in a three-year window 51 percent of the workforce is going to be transitioning out of education with most of them retiring.

“Hiring has become more competitive nationally and the lack of affordable housing here has become one of the biggest barriers for us when it comes to hiring new teachers and staff,” he added.

Sun Valley Community School is helping 41 of 110 employees with housing. It’s done that by creating rent assistance and down-payment assistance programs. It purchased a fourplex for staff in the Skyview complex on Woodside Boulevard in Hailey. It’s partnering with ARCH Community Housing Trust for a handful of units. It’s housing six employees in the dorm that sits across from Bigwood Bread Bakery & Café in Ketchum.

And the school has significantly increased salaries to help with increases in rental prices and mortgages, Pettit said.

Now the school wants to build workforce housing at its Sagewillow Campus, which hosts the Air Barn and soccer fields, and at property it owns on nearby Arrowleaf Road.

The housing would benefit not just the school but the community, as well, because it would add to the housing stock in the valley, said Ryan Waterfield, the school’s communications director. “And it’s a clear benefit to the school’s students if teachers live close to their place of employment,” she added.

Zoning revisions are necessary before building commences.

The City of Sun Valley’s Comprehensive Plan has contemplated multi-family housing on part of the Sagewillow Campus since 2006. And the Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2015 reaffirms that multi-family housing would be something that could be appropriate there, said Brittany Skelton, community development director for the City of Sun Valley.

The city’s latest zoning designations did away with OR-1, the zoning designation that covered the original 32-acre Sagewillow Campus, which was gifted to the school by the Dumke family in 1998. That prompted the school to apply in 2021 for a rezone that matched the 2015 Comprehensive Plan future land use planning map.

Any building would not affect the athletic fields, the barn or open space around the barn, Pettit said. Housing could potentially be built on what is now parking.

“We’ve been in conversations with seven neighborhood groups that surround the campus and we’ve sent out a couple surveys and we’re adapting proposals based on the feedback from those surveys,” said Pettit. “We’re looking at 40 to 45 units that we think can help meet the school’s long-term needs.”

The six acres that the school owns on Arrowleaf Road has five lots in an area zoned for single-family houses. The school is proposing to rezone that property to medium density so it could put three townhomes with a total of 10 units between the three on two of the lots, leaving the other three lots for open space.

Some residents have indicated they would prefer that to building single-family residences on all five lots, said Pettit.

“It would allow for much more open space than the current zoning,” said Waterfield. “The school has said from the beginning of this process that it would submit a development agreement along with its rezone application codifying issues like open space, agreed-upon building heights and more. We have worked extensively with our neighbors to understand and address the issues that they have been most concerned about.”

The school last went before Sun Valley’s P&Z in February and has been looking at potential proposals with neighbors and traffic consultants since. When ready, it will submit updated information to P&Z probably this fall, Skelton said.

If the rezone is approved, the school will have to submit architectural designs to the Sun Valley/Elkhorn Association and the city’s P&Z and City Council.

“The school is following the process that any other land owner in Sun Valley or Idaho goes through. It’s a very public process and, as the application moves forward, there will be additional opportunities for members of the public to weigh in,” Skelton said.

“The housing issue is something we need to address over the next three to five years. We would like it to be quicker than five years,” Pettit said.ï


Key Takeaways from the Survey

Approximately 15% of those surveyed responded to
both surveys.

A majority of those surveyed (63.4%) believe that the Valley has an urgent need for workforce housing and 28.1 % believe there is a moderate need for workforce housing. Traffic and loss of wildlife habitat are among the concerns elicited in the survey.

There is significant support for the school, its history and its role in the community.



This article appears in the Fall 2023 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.