Boise's Lusk Street area faces some growing pains

A neighborhood braces for student-housing projects that would bring more than 1,000 university students

zkyle@idahostatesman.comAugust 19, 2013 

  • To get involved

    The Lusk Street neighborhood has never had a neighborhood association, in part because there are no homeowners there. Business owners and tenants are forming the Lusk District Neighborhood Association in response to development plans changing an area that has been largely untouched for decades. Anybody who owns a business or lives in rented housing in the area is invited to attend an association meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 20, at Papa Joe’s at 1301 S. Capitol Blvd.

The more Boise grew up around the Lusk Street Neighborhood, the more the neighborhood stayed the same.

The neighborhood has been a development no-man’s land south of Downtown, east of Ann Morrison Park and west of Boise State University. Several hotels, apartments and new businesses have moved in during the past few decades, but the tenor of the 46 acres has remained commercial and industrial. Royal Auto Body set up shop in 1947. Jim’s Appliance & Furniture opened in 1971. More than half of the 35 buildings were built before 1960.

“It’s an obscure location,” said Stuart Tallant, the second-generation owner of Jim’s. “A lot of people come down to Lusk Street to buy appliances and have their cars fixed. Other than that, there’s not a lot of reasons to come down here.”

That may change soon, thanks to the growth of Boise State University.

The university’s enrollment has increased more than 22 percent over the past decade to about 22,600 last fall. The university is “on the cusp” of a housing shortage, with about 30 first-year students on a waiting list for the 2,300 beds available on campus, said Dean Kennedy, director of housing and resident life.

The university has bled over Capitol Boulevard — the campus boundary — into the Lusk neighborhood. The Textbook Exchange and a university housing building are there. Bronco orange and blue checker the soon-to-open Cheerleaders Sports Bar and Grill.

The piecemeal change will soon become sweeping. The city has approved development of two five-story student apartment buildings on vacant lots, and permit applications are expected for a third.

The city has approved plans for 622-bed River Edge Apartments and 336-bed Boise Heights, both on Royal Boulevard. Plans haven’t been completed for a third project, which would be accessed from South Lois Avenue. That project is expected to include hundreds of beds.

Permit applications for the previously docile neighborhood have sent city planners scrambling to create a Lusk Street Master Plan with development and design standards before more rapid development happens. The applications also have prompted creation of the Lusk District Neighborhood Association.

The apartment proposals are “a sign BSU isn’t keeping up with demand for housing on their campus,” Boise Planning Director Hal Simmons said. “We want to adopt a plan pretty quickly so we’re ready for anything that comes through the door.”

Simmons said the plan will be ready for public comment in October. A draft, available on the city’s website, lays out a vision of commercial and retail uses with a combination of student and nonstudent housing. The draft also calls for the neighborhood to become a more prominent entry to Ann Morrison Park.

The plan calls for street improvements and bicycle accommodations. It also calls for the neighborhood to become an extension of Downtown.

“Lusk Street itself can expand on its role as a small ‘Main Street’ storefront experience for residents, employees and visitors to the area,” the draft says.

Eileen Langan Barber hopes that happens.

Barber, cofounder of technology firm and neighborhood anchor Keynetics, said she wants to see more tech firms move to the area as part of new development. However, she said the neighborhood already lacks parking. That problem will be exacerbated by the developments, which Barber said are underserved for parking.

The developments would essentially be private dormitories. The apartments at River Edge and Boise Heights each would have between two and four individually leased bedrooms. Simmons said the third project will follow the same format.

Barber contested the River Edge permit to the city, saying the building’s bed-to-parking space ratio of less than half a space per bedroom will force students to park on the street.

The city upheld approval of River Edge. Barber and 917 Lusk, the company owning the building that houses Keynetics, appealed. Barber appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court after a district court judge sided with the developer.

Barber said she’s excited for neighborhood development and likes the Boise Heights project, which will provide enough spaces for about 75 percent of the rooms. However, Barber said she doesn’t accept the city’s contention that many student tenants won’t have cars.

“It’s a reverse ‘Field of Dreams’ to say, ‘If we don’t build (parking lots), they won’t bring their cars,’ ” Barber said. “That’s just not how it works.”

City planners have promoted mixed-use neighborhoods and reduced surface parking throughout Boise, Simmons said.

A city code calling for at least 1.5 spaces per unit is a suburban standard and runs counter to the densely populated development the city wants for Downtown and Lusk, Simmons said.

“If we can’t get away with less than suburban parking standards here, then where can we?” he said.

Simmons said student housing managers will have to make sure that not all tenants will have parking. Simmons said the Lusk neighborhood’s current parking problems are a product of students from outside the neighborhood — not Lusk tenants — who use the area for free parking, which is largely unavailable on campus.

Simmons said the city will limit on-street parking by creating a parking district after adoption of the master plan. A parking district would likely use a combination of metered parking and parking permit requirements to address the problem, Simmons said.

“I don’t mean to discount Eileen’s concerns about parking,” Simmons said. “But we really believe a parking management district will free up on-street parking in a way beneficial to her and other business owners in that district.”

Tallant, the appliance-store owner, said he’s fine with the neighborhood finally growing up, even if that means multistory buildings begin replacing the area’s small, one-story businesses.

“I’m not opposed to change,” he said. “I think change is good. I may be a part of it. I may update my building.”

Zach Kyle: 377-6464

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