Shakespeare Festival, landowner brace for appeal decision

The Boise council will decide today the fate of a proposed 43-home development.

sberg@idahostatesman.comJanuary 14, 2014 

A clash over 12 acres in Boise’s East End has unraveled the relationship between the family that owns the land and one of the city’s cultural assets.

Either that, or the relationship wasn’t as strong in the first place as both sides thought it was.

David Triplett owns the land between the Boise River and East Warm Springs Avenue. He feels betrayed by the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, which holds performances from June to September in an outdoor amphitheater just east of his land.

Over the years, Triplett has helped the amphitheater save money and run more smoothly. But Shakespeare Festival leaders and supporters have aggressively fought his plan to sell his land to a developer. Some 7,000 people attending amphitheater performances over the summer signed a petition against Jim Conger’s proposal to put the homes and a cluster of storage buildings on Triplett’s land.

Shakespeare enthusiasts worry noise from the homes would detract from performances in the amphitheater, and they want the city to stop the Triplett-Conger plan. In September, more than 100 people attended the Planning and Zoning hearing on Conger’s request to develop the Tripletts’ land. Dozens of Shakespeare supporters testified against the plan.

Some predicted residents of the homes would eventually complain about noise from the amphitheater and try to shut it down. Others worried about the development’s effect on the Barber Pool Conservation Area, 700 acres south of Triplett’s property and host to more than 200 species of wildlife. The county wants to protect Barber Dam, which it owns, from outsiders and make sure Conger protects his development in case of a breach or other problem with the dam.

The Planning and Zoning Commission denied Conger’s application. Triplett and his wife, Ann, appealed that decision.

STRAINED FRIENDSHIP

Gary Allen, an attorney for Boise law firm Givens Pursley, said he’s put 200 hours of pro bono work into this issue on the festival’s behalf. Since filing the appeal, he said, he’s tried to contact the Tripletts directly to talk through the dispute, but to no avail.

“We’re all a little sad that we have to go through this,” he said. “We’d much rather see things get resolved, and the festival is open to those kinds of discussions, but neither the developer nor the Tripletts have been willing to talk to us directly. But, again, the door is open from our point of view.”

For years, the Tripletts had a friendly relationship with the people who ran the Shakespeare Festival. Mark Hofflund, the festival’s managing director, said the same thing.

The Tripletts even allowed the festival to pipe sewage for free from the amphitheater to a pair of now-inactive lagoons on their property.

There was a loose agreement that the festival would someday buy the Tripletts’ land. Hofflund said the general idea was to transfer ownership of those 12 acres sometime around 2018.

But developer Jim Conger changed the timeline in late 2012 when he offered to buy the Tripletts’ property and build Barber Mill Estates, a 43-home subdivision, on it. Triplett said he took the same offer to the Shakespeare people “about seven times.”

Hofflund said the Tripletts wanted more money than the Shakespeare Festival could pay.

‘THE LAST, BITTER END’

Triplett wouldn’t say exactly how much Conger agreed to pay for the land. He said he and his wife would have sold it to the Shakespeare Festival for less than $1 million, which he believes is a substantial discount from its market value. Cleaning up the sewage lagoons, which has to be done before development can take place, would cost at least $300,000, Triplett said.

The September meeting lasted nearly five hours. Allen said he expects Tuesday’s appeal hearing to last at least four hours.

Conger is confident he’ll win. Partly, that’s because the people hearing the appeal — the City Council — are the ones who approved Boise’s comprehensive plan, which foresees residential development along East Warm Springs Avenue.

“Either their original plans have erred, or Planning and Zoning erred,” Conger said.

Hofflund, the festival’s managing director, hopes for a turnout as big as the Planning and Zoning meeting, despite the fact that many of the people who testified in September had nothing tangible to gain or lose.

“One worries that, as this thing goes on, people lose the momentum or get tired of it,” Hofflund said. “It’s the people that want to make the money (who) tend to pursue it to the last, bitter end.”

A bitter end is exactly what one side of this dispute is likely to find Tuesday.

Some elements of the City Council’s ruling may be subject to a judge’s review. But Allen believes the council’s decision on annexing the land into Boise limits, which is necessary for the development to take place, is not reviewable — although he said other lawyers may disagree.

Sven Berg: 377-6275

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