Boise Council delivers mixed ruling on East End development

January 15, 2014 

For decades, three sewer lagoons have been in a vacant lot adjacent to the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. ISF and others expected a lot of development to come to the Barber Valley, but not this lot, which is not part of Harris Ranch.


There was nothing quick or easy about the Boise City Council's decision in Wednesday morning's wee hours.

After a seven-hour meeting, most of which was devoted to a single public hearing, council members haggled over minute but crucial details before handing down a decision that leaves a good chance the same topic will come before them again.

In the end, the council annexed 12 acres next to the Idaho Shakespeare Festival's outdoor amphitheater in Boise's East End. But its members rejected developer Jim Conger's plan to put 43 homes and a cluster of storage buildings on the land. They adopted a zoning classification that would allow only one home on the property, anticipating they'll see a revised development plan and rezone request from Conger.

That wasn't all. The council also required Conger, along with David and Ann Triplett, who own the 12 acres, to enter mediation with the people who resisted the development in hopes of finding a plan that's agreeable to both sides. The city will pay for at least the first round of mediation.

Council President Maryanne Jordan, who's served on the council since the early 2000s, said she's never seen a more complicated issue.

Here's why: The Tripletts' land lies between East Warm Springs Avenue and the Boise River. Just east of is the Shakespeare Festival's outdoor amphitheater — the most discussed obstacle to Conger's and the Tripletts' plan.

Fans of the Shakespeare Festival worried noise from homes in Conger's development would detract from performances in the amphitheater. They also worried people living in those 43 homes would complain about noise from the amphitheater and seek to shut it down or at least limit its use.

In September, the Boise Planning and Zoning Commission denied Conger's application for permits to build the 43-home development, which he called Barber Mill Estates. The Tripletts appealed that decision. Tuesday's meeting — which spilled into Wednesday — was the City Council's hearing on that appeal.

Over the years, the Tripletts have discussed selling their land to the Shakespeare Festival. Ann Triplett said Tuesday night that she and her husband once had a friendly relationship with the Shakespeare people. But now there's nothing but hurt and mistrust, she said, and she'll never sell the land to the Shakespeare people, "period, end of story."

Gary Allen, attorney for the Shakespeare Festival, said he believes the festival can raise enough money in less than a year to buy the Tripletts' land. He wasn't concerned about Ann Triplett's vow to never deal with the festival because Shakespeare isn't really interested in owning the land, he said. The Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands, which owns part of the nearby 700-acre Barber Pool Conservation Area, seems to make the most sense as a long-term owner, Allen said.

There are other complications. Some people worried that developing the Tripletts' land as Conger proposed to do would harm wildlife that moves through the area. Conger said he left plenty of room between his proposed homes and the conservation area.

Then there's Barber Dam, which Ada County owns. The county wants a bigger easement on the Tripletts' property in order to protect it and associated equipment in the area from damage during construction of Conger's proposed homes.

Another complication, one that's could be the most difficult to overcome, is the existence of two unused sewage lagoons on the Tripletts' property. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality is pushing the Tripletts to clean up the lagoons. Conger proposed to take care of that problem before developing the land.

From early in Tuesday's meeting, it was clear that several members of the City Council wanted to annex the Tripletts' land. That's because it gives the city much more influence on the kind of development that can happen on it. But none of the council members seemed to like Conger's design for the subdivision. Jordan said the storage buildings - which Conger added to reduce concerns about noise between the development and the amphitheater - just wouldn't fit.

To judge by the meeting alone, Shakespeare's fans and leaders, as well as neighbors to the Tripletts' land, would seem to have little on which to base a productive mediation with the Tripletts and Conger. Besides Ann Tripletts' mistrust of the Shakespeare people, the festival's leaders don't believe any residential development of their land is appropriate. Allen said there'd be an "irreconcilable conflict" between any kind of housing and the amphitheater's performances.

It's unclear when mediation will start if Conger continues down the development path the city wants him to follow.

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