Proposed Boise bond contains money for Central, West Bench parks

Some wonder if the mayor proposed $5.5 million in improvements to drum up voter support in those neighborhoods.

sberg@idahostatesman.comAugust 30, 2013 

  • BIETER'S BOND: THE BASICS

    Boise Mayor Dave Bieter has proposed a $34 million bond to pay for open space purchases as well as public safety and parks improvements.

    • $18.35 million would pay for upgrades to four fire stations, a new fire training facility and a Central District police station.

    • $10 million would be set aside for open space purchases, such as additional public land in the Foothills.

    • $5.5 million would pay for new parks and upgrades to existing parks.

    Bieter wants the bond on the Nov. 5 ballot. The city has until Sept. 16 to submit its ballot language for the bond to the county clerk.

    The city held a series of public workshops early this month and plans to hold a special meeting at noon Wednesday to discuss the bond. The council is expected to vote Sept. 10 on ballot language, city spokesman Adam Park said.

  • WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?

    Neighborhood parks

    Size: 0.6 acres to 10 acres

    Amenities: green space, restrooms, parking, pathways, shelters, etc.

    Community parks

    Size: 10 to 25 acres

    Amenities: All neighborhood park amenities, plus soccer, lacrosse or baseball fields.

  • About this series

    This is the second in an occasional series looking at Mayor's Bieter's proposal for a city bond measure to finance more parks, more open space and more fire and police facilities.

  • PUBLIC REACTION TO THE PROPOSAL

    Last week's three open houses on the bond proposal drew a total of 62 visitors, Bieter spokesman Adam Park reported to the City Council on Tuesday.

    So far, the city has tallied 38 public comments on the bond. Twenty-two were in favor of the entire $34 million package, Park said. Two were opposed. Two suggested removing the $10 million item for open space purchases, and one suggested removing parks investments. The rest were neutral comments and suggestions.

Citywide, Boise boasts more than 5.6 acres of park space per 1,000 residents.

The West Bench has less than half that amount, with 2.24 acres per 1,000 residents. Parks are a little more plentiful in the Central Bench area, with 2.54 acres per 1,000 residents.

"It's about half of what we would like to see," Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway said. "So, obviously, that's a red flag to the council."

Boise Mayor David Bieter has proposed borrowing $34 million for open space purchases, upgrades to fire and police facilities and new and better parks. About one-sixth of the bond, if voters approve it in November, would go to six parks.

By picking the Bench for new parks and new amenities in existing parks, Bieter and the City Council are addressing an area of Boise that's traditionally underserved, Bieter spokesman Adam Park said.

"The mayor and council feel that parks are one of the core elements of livability," Park said.

But Ron Marler, who lives in the West Bench area, thinks the city is using the parks component of the bond to lure "yes" votes out of Bench dwellers.

"That was the sweetener that was put into the bond," said Marler, who serves as president of the West Bench Neighborhood Association but said he wasn't speaking for the group. "My personal take on it is that I wish they would have split it up into multiple bonds."

The city has denied that lumping multiple items into one bond is designed to attract voters in favor of one or two of them. Bieter chose a single bond because it's simpler than holding three separate elections, Park said.

Marler said he likes the idea of more parks in his neighborhood. He just doesn't like the city's way of getting money for them.

"Three bonds would be preferable. I don't think that it's fair that we have to decide on all of them at once," he said. "The way it is, I can't vote 'yes' for it."

The bond's 21.5 acres of new green space wouldn't do much to increase the per-person park acreage in the Central and West Bench areas, which account for more than half of Boise's population.

But Holloway said the improvements move the city closer to an important goal: that each neighborhood park has at least one other neighborhood park within a half-mile radius, and each community park has at least one community park within a mile of it. Many areas of Boise, particularly on the Bench, don't meet that benchmark.

The bond's $5.5 million upfront investment in parks would increase the Parks and Recreation Department's maintenance costs by a projected $141,000, which the city would pay for from its general fund, Holloway said.

In his state of the city address in June, Bieter called the expenditures "a package of critical capital improvements." Since that speech, the only organized opposition to the bond has been from the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which called it a list of "wants, not needs" and asked the City Council to block it.

City officials estimate the bond would cost the average Boise homeowner an additional $13 each year in property taxes.

Here's a look at the individual park projects Boise has pitched for bond money:

BORAH PARK

Location: 801 S. Aurora Drive.

Bond would pay for: Development of four additional acres, basketball court, walking paths, open play fields, dog park.

Total size: 13.1 acres

Cost of upgrades: $525,000

Besides adding four acres to one of the city's most popular parks, Parks and Recreation is exploring the possibility of securing public access to open areas that Bishop Kelly High School owns to the west of the park in exchange for letting the school use part of it.

FRANKLIN PARK

Location: Southwest corner of Franklin Road and Orchard Street (former site of Franklin school).

Bond would pay for: Development of three acres, playground, picnic shelter, restroom, parking, walking path and fitness trail, community garden.

Total size: 3 acres

Cost: $760,000

The city is in negotiations to buy the interior of the property, which the Boise School District owns, for use as a neighborhood park. The district would likely sell the parcel's Franklin and Orchard frontages, possibly for use as a commercial development.

LIBERTY PARK

Location: 520 N. Liberty St.

Bond would pay for: Development of 2.5 additional acres, restroom, parking, basketball court, open play fields, picnic shelter, baseball field

Total size: 9 acres

Cost: $835,000

The city's hoped-for improvements would add a fourth field to South Boise Little League's home park. Future phases would add more baseball fields, three new picnic shelters and a walking path.

MILWAUKEE PARK

Location: 3950 N. Milwaukee St.

Bond would pay for: Picnic shelter, restroom, playground, basketball court, pathways.

Total size: 10 acres

Cost: $335,000

In the future, the city hopes to rebuild all four baseball fields, orienting them so that the outfields radiate outward from a concession stand in the center of the park.

PINE GROVE PARK

Location: 8995 W. Shoup Ave.

Bond would pay for: Development of 3.5-acre site, two group picnic shelters, seven covered picnic table sites with grills, playground, restroom, half-court basketball court, dog parks, parking.

Total size: 4.3 acres

Cost: $1.1 million

Nestled against the freeway, this would be a completely new park. The city bought the ground seven years ago.

STERLING PARK

Location: 1051 Mitchell St.

Bond would pay for: Development of eight-acre site, picnic shelter, playground, restroom, tennis court, basketball court, dog park, parking, water spray features, mini-skate park, pond.

Total size: 8.1 acres

Cost: $1.9 million

This would be a major addition to the West Bench. The Sterling project would account for almost 35 percent of the bond's spending on parks, and 40 percent of new green space.

Sven Berg: 377-6275

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