Boise is preparing to swap 6.5 acres it owns on the edge of Downtown at Whitewater Boulevard and Main Street for the historic Spaulding Ranch, a 20-acre stretch of open space on the Boise Bench owned by the developer LocalConstruct.
The parcel proposed for the swap is kitty-corner to the former Bob Rice car dealership along Main Street that may become the future Boise campus of the College of Western Idaho. The parcel comprises the largest part of the block bordered by Main Street, Whitewater Boulevard, Fairview Avenue and 27th Street.
If the council approves the agreement, a 30-day due diligence period will give both landowners the chance to get assessments and surveys done, do environmental studies and more, said Mike Journee, a city spokesman.
The Spaulding Ranch property is assessed at $287,500, according to the Ada County Assessor’s Office. The city doesn’t yet have an assessed value for the Whitewater property, said Journee. State law requires that properties involved in land exchanges have like values.
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The Spaulding Ranch, on North Cole Road south of Capital High School, has been uninhabited for many years. The property is named for the Spaulding family that homesteaded the farm in 1896. The site is one of the city’s nine historic preservation districts. It’s the sole district consisting of a single property and the sole district with an agricultural character.
The historic aspect of the property complicates potential development, said Michael Brown from LocalConstruct. It would require right-of-way improvements and the lifting of the historic designation, he said. LocalConstruct wasn’t interested in the possibility of building houses on the Spaulding site while trying to retain the historic structures, so it worked with the city to come up with the exchange plan.
“We’ve looked at several parcels in the West End. We thought there could be a win-win situation,” said Brown. “I think we’re headed in that direction. But there are still a lot of moving parts to be hammered out.”
With a large site such as Whitewater, Brown said his company could consider developing a self-contained community with housing, retail and office space all connected by green space.
“We’re just now starting our master planning with what we would do there,” said Brown. The company will make a presentation before the city at a later date. City leaders would like the West End to become an urban extension of Downtown Boise, said Journee.
The city has had an interest in the Spaulding Ranch for some time, he added.
“It’s seldom that you have an open area like that in the city with such a unique history and with such a good connection to the past,” Journee said.
FIRST WOMAN DOCTOR
By some accounts, original homesteader Mary Spaulding was the first woman doctor to practice medicine in Boise. The ranch is in the National Register of Historic Places. Several outbuildings remain, including a red barn that dates to 1910, a farmhouse and a wooden silo.
“If and when the council approves this, and assuming things go well during the 30-day period, there will be a much bigger conversation with the public about the Spaulding property and what it could and should be — open space or a park, a garden, urban farm or interpretive walk.”
Dan Everhart, of Preservation Idaho, said his group has been concerned about the future of the Spaulding Ranch for some time. Through the years and various landowners, developers have shown interest in building on the site, prompting Preservation Idaho to list the Spaulding Ranch as one of the most endangered historic sites in the city.
“It’s very exciting that the city would consider this site an important enough asset to acquire and protect. Preservation Idaho is ready to work with the city to assess the options for the site and help with its ongoing use and maintenance,” said Everhart. Preservation of the site also means more open space for an area of the city known for its lack of open space and park amenities, he added.
Under city ownership, the Spaulding Ranch could become a cultural attraction similar to the former home of artist James Castle in West Boise, which the city’s Arts and History Department is restoring.
“Mayor (Dave) Bieter talks a lot about the importance of art and culture as ‘place-making’ tools,” said Journee. The Spaulding Ranch, the Castle homesite are not unlike the iconic Foothills and Greenbelt when it comes to “preserving the places that make this city unique.”