Boise's open space: It's not just Foothills anymore

The city looks at preserving 'remnant jewels' in its urban core.

awebb@idahostatesman.comOctober 14, 2013 


    Two bond measures that would allow the city of Boise to borrow almost $33 million are on Boise ballots this election.

    One bond would authorize $17 million in debt for construction of a new fire training facility and upgrades to four fire stations.

    The other bond would set aside $10 million for open-space purchases and $5.5 million in new and improved Central and West bench parks.

    Business owners and homeowners would roughly split the cost of repaying the bonds. If both measures pass, the owner of an average Boise home — valued at $184,000 — would pay an extra $12 per year in property taxes. A business with $1 million in taxable property value would pay an additional $132 per year, according to the city.

    If just one of the bonds passes, it would cut those amounts roughly in half.

    The total cost of repaying both bonds over 20 years would be more than $50 million.

    If just the fire bond passes, its repayment amount over 20 years would be $26.8 million. If just the parks and open-space bond passes, its repayment amount would be $24.5 million over 20 years.

    Both measures require a two-thirds majority to pass.

  • Election coverage

    Prepare for the November elections this week with the Idaho Statesman. Our Voter's Guide appeared in Sunday's edition. It can be found also at

    Monday: Boise's fire protection bond

    Tuesday: Boise's parks and open space bond

    Coming Wednesday: Meridian's council elections

    Coming Thursday: Nampa's council elections

The Boise Foothills are among the city's most iconic sites and most definitive landscapes. The serial levy that passed in 2001 helped preserve nearly 11,000 acres of them.

Passage of a proposed bond on Nov. 5 would mean another $10 million for open space, on top of $5.5 million for six new and enhanced parks on the Boise Bench.

The city has identified 35,000 acres of Foothills land for possible preservation.

But if the bond passes, city leaders want to look at other kinds of land as well — parcels that could redefine residents' definition of open space.

"There could be sites along the Boise River and in the Southwestern part of the city, or, frankly, sites in the urban core," said Doug Holloway, the city's director of parks and recreation.

He wouldn't be specific but said there are a number of parcels of interest — "almost urban forests," he said. Some are nearly an acre in size. They include a site no more than a mile and a half from Boise City Hall.

"I had no idea it existed until I walked into it," Holloway said about the latter. "I couldn't believe the enormity of the trees. It was beautiful. It would be a shame if someone developed it."

The city has done a lot of analysis of the Foothills and has identified where it wants to buy next. Land near Stewart Gulch and surrounding Hulls Gulch north of the Military Reserve are likely targets.

But the city has done only preliminary work on "flatland" open space, said Holloway.

Spaces like the hidden "urban forests" continue to come to light. He's been fielding a couple of calls each week from people in the community suggesting possible preservation parcels in the city core.

It's likely the parcels are already on the city's radar, said Holloway, but he's open to suggestions.

"Some of the best programming Parks and Rec has established in the city (including art and dance programs for kids) has come from public suggestion," he said.


The concept of open space within cities is on a lot of radar screens.

"I was just at a conference and the topic came up about finding ways of making it easier for all residents to have access to nature," said Tim Breuer, executive director of the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley. The group supports the proposed bond.

"You can't put the Foothills in the Central Bench, for example," Breuer said.

But you can preserve what he calls the "remnant jewels" in developed neighborhoods, as well as land on city perimeters.

"Our tagline, 'conserving nature close to home,' couldn't resonate any more with that model," Breuer said.

Urban open space — even that on the slightly wild side — is in harmony with that idea, said Holloway.

Westminster, a Denver suburb, is home to examples of urban open space that could be models for Boise, Holloway said.

"They take city lots downtown. They don't develop them into full parks, but might add a natural gravel path, a bench and that's it. It's open space that can connect with a trail system that might be blocks away. They're more used to this idea of an urban park than we are," said Holloway.

The trick will be finding open-space parcels inside the city that don't "stack open space on top of other park amenities," he said.


Future open space inside the city could be similar to established sites like the Hyatt Wetlands or Warm Springs Park behind the Natatorium in East Boise.

The Hyatt Wetlands are a "gorgeous nature area," said Breuer. And, they clean stormwater runoff before it runs into the Boise River.

Breuer recently led a group of at-risk students on a project to plant cottonwood trees in the wetlands. Some of the students were aloof at first, Breuer said. But by the end of the day, sentiments had shifted, and they were talking about how great it was to be outside doing a project that helps the community.

"That's one example of what these kinds of spaces can do," Breuer said.


The bond also calls for $5.5 million for six new or improved parks on the Boise Bench. A city study found the area underserved when it comes to its number of parks and park amenities.

Because neighborhoods on the Bench are older and established, paying for parks with impact fees isn't an option, said Adam Park, a spokesman for the mayor's office.

Existing programs such as Neighborhood Reinvestment grants wouldn't provide enough money for the kinds of changes city leaders want to make. The plans include buying land at the former Franklin School site at Franklin and Orchard for $760,000.

"The mayor and council feel the parks play an overall role in the livability of the city and want them to be available to everyone - regardless of the part of town they live in," said Park.

Some of the existing park sites, including Borah and Liberty, have been city property since the 1960s and 1970s and have been awaiting upgrades.


Voices of opposition include those such as candidate Bill Jarocki, who's trying to unseat TJ Thomson on the Boise City Council. Jarocki has said that while he enjoys amenities like the Greenbelt, he's not in favor of citizens taking on more debt as they emerge from the recent recession.

But many community members, even those who live far from the Bench, appear to favor the parks and open-space bond.

"I haven't met a park I didn't like, or that I thought was a waste of space," said Kelly Tagg, a resident of the West Downtown neighborhood.

Her local park, Fairview Park at Idaho and 23rd streets, has been the site of birthday parties and neighborhood meetings for years, she said. She wants Boiseans in other neighborhoods to have the same kinds of public spaces.

"When my sister from Oklahoma City visits, she always comments on Boise's livability," said Tagg. A lot of that has to do with parks, like the new Boise River Park.

Barbara Svetich, past president of the Pierce Park Neighborhood Association, also lives far from the Bench and the proposed improvements. But she has a connection to the Bench, she said: She's volunteered for longer than she can remember to cook free Friday meals at All Saints Episcopal Church on Latah Street.

"I know the people there. That's a depressed area with a lot of older homes and a number of low-income people. I don't mind paying a little more for parks in that area," said Svetich.

Matt Cryer, president of the Highlands Neighborhood Association, said he wished the city had opted for a levy rather than a bond for parks and open space.

"Because (a levy is) paid for and done," he said.

But he supports the idea of more parks and open space in areas of the city that are lacking.

"It's fair that we all pay for parks. I probably won't use those parks on the Bench, but I sell real estate. They will be amenities and the whole populace will benefit," Cryer said.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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