Jeff Miller remembers when farmers would pull their trucks up next to each other in the middle of the street in Kuna, shut off their engines and catch up on the news. If a car came up behind them, they’d just wave it past.
Such bits of rural living are giving way in Kuna as subdivisions peck away at the fertile, flat landscape that once provided land and livings for farmers. There are many more people and cars than farms these days.
“The town is exploding,” said Miller, now owner of Stubbs Realty in Kuna, where he sells many of those houses. People come for the small-town atmosphere and low home prices, he said.
Kuna, about 30 minutes southwest of Boise, is no stranger to growth. New houses sprang up before the Great Recession, but that growth eased a little through the tough economic times. It has reignited:
▪ New homes: Nearly 1,000 permits issued since 2013.
▪ Multifamily housing: Twelve permits issued in 2016, the first since 2005.
▪ City limits: Expanded by 535 percent since 2005 to 16.85 square miles as the city provides more services to housing developments.
▪ Roads and traffic: The Ada County Highway District is planning $10 million worth of Kuna road projects by 2021, among them signals at Hubbard Lane and Idaho 69, and bike lanes.
Growth was a principal factor in Kuna School District’s March 14 election, when voters narrowly authorized a $40 million bond to start a second high school, create a second middle school and expand several elementary schools to make room for an estimated 700 new students who will be squeezed into classrooms in the next three years.
“It’s insane,” parent Amber Abercrombie marveled shortly before the March vote.
A BUILDER’S DELIGHT
CBH Homes has toiled in the Kuna market since the late 1990s. It provides an array of houses, from starters at 1,200 square feet to homes in the 2,500- to 3,000-square-feet range.
CBH homes are priced from $181,490 to $360,724.
“It’s a great market,” said Holly Haener, director of sales and marketing for CBH, the largest builder in the Kuna area.
The company also owns a lot of undeveloped land. “We will be there for some time,” Haener said.
Houses are selling briskly, Haener said. CBH has 55 homes for sale right now — some built, some under construction and some not yet started. And it’s preparing to start a 300-home development called Spring Hill at the southwest corner of Lake Hazel and Linder roads.
“We have every intention for Kuna being a strong player,” Haener said.
The big draw is home prices, among the lowest in the Treasure Valley, according to Intermountain Multiple Listing Service. But demand is driving up prices some. The median price for a house in Kuna shot up 56 percent between 2012 and 2016, to $187,000, which is faster than the increase in the county as a whole.
Kuna’s tax base is growing, too. Increased demand and prices pushed Kuna’s total market value for property past the $1 billion mark last year for the first time in history, Ada County assessors say.
FIRST HOMES, THEN BUSINESSES
Growth is contributing to the bottom line at Color Me Green, a 6-year-old salon in Kuna that offers hair care without toxic chemicals, as well as pedicures and body waxing, said owner Rachele Wilson.
Since 2012, her business has increased three-fold, and Wilson now has five hairstylists and a body-waxing aesthetician to keep up with demand. The increased business has allowed her to add a coffee bar featuring organic beans.
She started in a 500-square-foot space and has moved to a building with 3,000 square feet.
“I would say 25 percent of our growth is that we have a lot more people moving out here,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s hair salon is just a sliver of the expanding commercial footprint in Kuna.
At Merrill Towne Center at Idaho 69 and Deer Flat Road, a shopping center now hosts a Ridley’s grocery, Ace Hardware and other stores.
Idaho Central Credit Union is planning to open a branch there in mid-July, and Reel Theaters has plans for an eight-screen cinema. O’Reilly Auto Parts is planning to move there and Bi-Mart is considering putting a store in the shopping center.
With all the growth unfolding, Miller at Stubbs Realty has dubbed the corner of 69 and Deer Flat as Kuna’s version of Eagle and Fairview, invoking the name of the booming Meridian commercial intersection that is among the busiest in the state.
“Now the commercial guys are coming in,” Miller said.
Part of the growth is coming from CS Beef Packers, a meat plant that’s a partnership with Caviness Beef Packers of Texas and Idaho’s J.R. Simplot Co. CS Beef Packers, aimed at giving local ranchers a closer slaughterhouse than California, will employ 700 people and has hired 400 already, said Josh Jordan, Simplot’s spokesman. It will start operations May 15.
Miller said he’s seeing some of those employees at his real estate office looking for homes.
THEY COME, AND COME BACK
Trina and Lazaro Ponce and their two children left Nampa in 2015 after 12 years to come to Kuna for the schools.
Seventh-grader Kenny and eight-grader Jayla were in a dual-language Spanish-English school in Nampa, but the program ended after fifth grade, and the parents wanted their children to keep getting the dual languages. So they stayed in Nampa and enrolled their children in the Kuna School District to try it out for a year.
“We felt it was a good experience,” said Trina Ponce. They feared Kuna’s growth would fill up the schools, possibly pushing out students attending from other districts, so they moved to Kuna.
Beyond the schools, the Ponces found a community that embraced them.
Whenever they can, the Ponces try to shop in Kuna instead of making a run to Boise or Meridian. They get their prescriptions at Ridley’s and do some of their shopping there.
They are big movie fans — the kids loves Marvel action movies — and soon will have a theater just miles from their house. “We are really excited for the theater,” Trina Ponce said.
People who’ve lived in Kuna and return say they’re called back by the echoes of rural life and small-town America. Kuna, they say, is the kind of place where you can still buy eggs fresh from the farm and where much of the community turns out for events and festivals.
“It still has outlying farms and agriculture-type people around,” said Kara Medrano, who lived in Kuna for 18 years and returned in March. “Kuna is still keeping true to its roots.”