Neighbors, Idaho Shakespeare Festival leaders question subdivision

Neighbors, Idaho Shakespeare Festival leaders question whether a subdivision is compatible with Boise’s popular outdoor amphitheater

cmsewell@idahostatesman.comJuly 26, 2013 

  • HAVE YOUR SAY AT TWO HEARINGS

    - On Aug. 5, the Boise Planning and Zoning Commission will consider Eastvalley’s application to annex 29 acres at the corner of Warm Springs Avenue and East Highland Valley Road, across from Ben’s Crow Inn, for a 64-home, 15-acre subdivision.

    - On Aug. 12, the panel will consider Barber Mill Estates’ application to annex 12 acres off Sawmill Way between Riverstone International School and the Barber Pool for a 47-home subdivision.

    - Both hearings begin at 6 p.m. in City Council chambers, third floor, City Hall, 150 N. Capitol Blvd.

Development is booming in the Barber Valley. There are dozens of new rooftops there, and the city of Boise has opened a new fire station and the 72-acre Marianne Williams Park in the past year.

The development is unfolding in accordance with the city’s long-term plan for the unique area.

The Barber Valley is sandwiched between the Boise River and the Foothills, much of which is part of the 36,000-acre Boise River Wildlife Management Area. The valley also is home to a regional cultural amenity — the Idaho Shakespeare Festival — and the 700-acre Barber Pool Conservation Area, home of more than 200 species of wildlife and one of the largest stands of native black cottonwood trees in the region.

When the Harris and Williams families, two of the area’s largest landowners, decided to develop their land, they got together with the city, other landowners and neighbors to draft a Barber Valley plan.

“We want to make the Barber Valley a showcase of how urban development can be done in concert with wildlife and cultural amenities,” said Brandy Wilson, vice president of the Riverland East Neighborhood Association and a former Boise planning commissioner.

Slowly, piece by piece, the parts are coming together, with two new schools, new Greenbelt pathways and carefully laid out subdivisions.

But one proposed development is raising some questions.

ANNEXING TO THE CITY

For 16 years, the Idaho Shakespeare Festival has been staging productions in an outdoor amphitheater tucked among the trees next to the Boise River. The only interruptions are an occasional honking goose flying overhead and the prattle of birds and other critters settling in for the evening.

When the nonprofit organization was looking for a new site in the late 1990s, the isolated location proved ideal — the Barber Pool Conservation Area and Boise River to the east and south, state park department headquarters to the north and a 12-acre undeveloped area to the west.

Festival leaders knew development would come to the area, and they welcomed it, considering the festival to be an integral part of the community.

But they didn’t anticipate a subdivision next door.

The sewage lagoons on that property, owned by the Triplett family, provided facilties for Golden Dawn Estates and the festival until Dec. 31, 2012; the users are now connected to city sewer. As part of its retirement plan, the family decided to sell the property, said Jim Conger of Conger Management Group, who is developing Barber Mill Estates.

The land, adjacent to but not part of Harris Ranch, is in Ada County and zoned rural preservation — one home per 40 acres. The developer is requesting annexation by the city and rezoning that would allow up to 4.8 homes per acre.

The adjacent Harris Ranch Mill District subdivision is zoned for up to eight homes per acre.

In addition to the 47 homes, the Barber Mill project also includes setting aside land for the city to build a Greenbelt path on the development’s edges.

Conger has another Barber Valley annexation and subdivision application pending with the city — 29 acres at the northeast corner of Warm Springs Avenue and East Highland Valley Road. He said the development plans call for about 120 homes, with the first phase, Eastvalley, being 64 houses.

FILLING IN LAGOONS

The site adjacent to the Idaho Shakespeare Festival amphitheater is different from other Barber Valley sites sprouting subdivisions because it comprises the lagoons, which must be closed, and easements and equipment pertaining to Barber Dam.

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has required the owner to submit a lagoon closure plan by Aug. 9. The plan will detail draining the lagoons and disposing of the remaining sludge, and it must be approved by the state before the lagoons can be demolished, a DEQ official said.

Development within the footprint of the lagoons cannot begin until the owner has complied with the plan, according to DEQ.

Ada County, too, has an interest in the development because part of an embankment of the county-owned Barber Dam is next to the Triplett property.

The county has an easement with the Tripletts related to dam function and monitoring. and what can be done on the easement land is restricted.

Ada County commissioners on May 24 sent a letter to the Tripletts and Conger reminding them of the county’s easement agreement. On May 28 the county posted a stop-work order because grading was being done without a permit.

To develop the site, Conger said, the elevated sewer lagoons must be dried and filled in, meaning the site will sit at a higher elevation than surrounding land — the Harris Ranch Mill Station neighborhood, Riverstone International School and the Shakespeare/Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands property.

The foundation owns much of Barber Pool and the nature reserve land around the amphitheater.

To accommodate neighbors’ concerns about the new homes towering over existing structures, the developer agreed to build only single-story homes on the western and eastern sides of the development, with multistory homes in the subdivision’s interior.

With elevated homes, some less than 500 feet from the amphitheater, the Idaho Shakespeare Festival is concerned about noise.

“This development will be much closer and therefore the sound from the theater will be much louder in these homes than in the existing homes. We also are concerned about sounds from the new houses impacting our performances,” said ISF Director Mark Hofflund.

‘NO NOISE ISSUE’

Conger said the new subdivision will have no effect on the Shakespeare performances.

Conger said he has had two sound engineers conduct studies about the festival’s sound impact on the subdivision and the subdivision’s impact on the amphitheater. He said the reports indicate that the noise would be on average with other neighborhoods, noting that honking geese and planes flying overhead recorded higher decibels.

“We are very confident there is no noise issue,” Conger said.

People moving to the new subdivision would know they are moving next to the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, he said. In fact, that could be one of the reasons they want to be there.

“The Shakespeare Festival is a great cultural amenity,” Conger said.

Over the years, the Tripletts and the ISF company have had a great relationship, Hofflund said. The Tripletts gave the festival free use of a sewer lagoon and let it place a landscaped, earthen berm on their property between the nature preserve and the sewer lagoons.

Conger said that berm would remain under the current application.

The Tripletts discussed selling the land to the festival but the nonprofit organization could not afford the purchase price and was concerned about taking on the liability and expense of decommissioning the lagoons, Hofflund said.

About 3,500 people attending Idaho Shakespeare Festival performances this summer have signed a petition opposing the project because they say it is not compatible with the surroundings.

The festival is being cautious in its approach, Hofflund said, wanting to review sound studies and other materials before taking an official position.

“The festival is concerned with the possible impact of a single-family urban development adjacent to the amphitheater and reserve,” said Hofflund.

Both neighborhood associations in the Barber Valley — Harris Ranch and Riverland East — oppose the project, Wilson said. They would like to see some type of transitional development — light office, commercial, a nature center or an expanded Barber Pool reserve park area — between the Mill Station subdivision and the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.

High-density housing abutting an outdoor amphitheater “could create a lot of headaches,” she said.

Conger said he wants to assuage neighbors’ concerns.

He said the subdivision complies with the city’s comprehensive plan, and the new homes will meld with the existing subdivisions and be compatible with the adjacent school, conservation area and Shakespeare Festival property.

“Our investment in the project is significant,” he said. “We have done our homework.”

Cynthia Sewell: 377-6428, Twitter: @CynthiaSewell

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