The cherished Astoria Hot Springs officially cleared its first hurdle last week, gaining a chance to once again open as a recreational staple in the valley.
Teton County commissioners unanimously approved a development proposal Sept. 17 that paved the way for the springs’ return, albeit in a different form.
Conceptual drawings suggest the springs would have a more natural landscape than the old concrete pool that many locals remember.
But so far what the hot springs will look like when it comes back hasn’t been much of a concern. The important part, rather, is that they do come back.
“It’s just a place that brings happiness,” said Jean Lewis, who has lived in the area since 2003. While Lewis did not have the opportunity to visit Astoria before it closed in 1999, she said she has heard many stories from “people who really mourned the loss of this community asset.”
Lewis, along with about a dozen other residents, appealed to the commissioners during their Sept. 15 meeting, encouraging the board to seize the “really unique opportunity” to rebuild the hot springs.
The board heard public comment and began discussions on Sept. 15. Commissioners approved the proposal in another meeting two days later.
The details of the proposal are complicated and not complete. A couple of bankruptcies and various plans for the site left the land in the hands of several owners at varying stages of development.
Three main groups collaborated on the most recent proposal: New York investment firm Northlight Trust, Georgia-based Cygnus Capital and the nonprofit conservation organization the Trust for Public Land.
Northlight Trust holds ownership of the northern part of the property, which includes the site of the original hot springs as well as about 100 acres of surrounding land.
Cygnus Capital, the Georgia-based owner of the Snake River Sporting Club, owns the property south of the springs, which includes 63 residential units and the golf course.
The development is planned to work as follows: 5 acres surrounding the original hot springs will remain zoned as “resort” and will eventually become the property of the Trust for Public Land. The Trust will be responsible for redeveloping the park, which is still several years out, said Chris Deming, senior project manager with the organization.
In addition to raising money to purchase the land, the Trust also needs to finalize a master plan for the park and have its final development plan approved by the county. Deming figured the process will take at least three years.
The 102 acres surrounding the springs would be rezoned “park.” From that parcel, 56 development units will transfer to the Cygnus parcel farther south. Those units would remain “resort,” and the land they transfer to would also take that zoning.
The resulting rezoning doesn’t officially go into effect until the applicants submit their proposals to the county clerk, said Shawn Means, senior planner for Teton County. Per the conditions of the project, the applicants have up to a year to get their rezoning requests processed, she said.
1 percent transfer fee
The 56 units are planned to be short-term rentals. They would also be subjected to a 1 percent transfer fee, collected every time the sporting club unit changes ownership.
The transfer fee is designed to fulfill the club developer’s requirement to provide affordable housing. Typically there are three options for a developer to fulfill this requirement: build units on site, build units off site or pay a one-time fee.
These units fall under a unique proposition in which a fee is tacked on in perpetuity. Every time a unit is sold, 1 percent of the sales price goes to an affordable housing fund that is likely to be earmarked for school district employee housing, though the details have not yet been worked out.
Many details remain unsettled, especially for the Astoria park. But commissioners said that even if the hot springs don’t return, the public can consider this development deal a win.
Some highlights include: reduced resort zoning from 195 acres to 111 acres, a reduction in overall development from 307,500 square feet to 219,000 square feet, and the relocation of 88 percent of the resort units that were planned to pop up along the Snake River.
“We know right away that the houses that were going to be down by the river are going to be gone,” said Teton County Commissioner Smokey Rhea, “which to me is a huge significant impact to the community.”