After months of listening to people argue over the pros and cons of St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center’s proposed Downtown Boise expansion, the Boise City Council is set to give its final decision on the project.
The council closed a nearly eight-hour public hearing in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, and then took the unusual step of not immediately deliberating and voting on the St. Luke’s proposal. Instead, they scheduled deliberation and, most likely, a vote for this coming Tuesday.
Which brings us a weird scenario. Steve Rutherford, the city’s attorney at this week’s meeting, warned council members not to talk or read anything about the St. Luke’s proposal until convening again to deliberate in an open meeting setting. The idea is that council members are supposed to make their decision based on information they heard in the public hearing, not on conversations and correspondence after that hearing was closed.
Doesn’t that seem a little hard to pull off? On top of the meetings they’ve sat through, council members say they’ve read thousands of pieces of correspondence up to now. It’s fair to assume it’s occupied their thinking for a while. How do they just turn that off? If they’re out for dinner and a show this weekend, and someone comes up and starts talking about St. Luke’s, wouldn’t it be easy to forget that such talk is verboten?
Then again, maybe council members will enjoy a break from talking about St. Luke’s.
WHAT’S A STREET WORTH?
Even after the council makes its decision, the dispute over the St. Luke’s proposal might not be over. If the council approves the expansion, St. Luke’s still has to get approval from Ada County Highway District, which controls public roads throughout the county.
Part of the St. Luke’s proposal is a request to permanently close the stretch of Jefferson Street between Avenue B and 1st Street. The closure would require highway district permission.
A few people have asked me if St. Luke’s would have to pay for the street space, since the hospital plans to build on top of it.
The answer is yes. Section 4002.4.9 of the highway district’s policy manual states that if the land under the right-of-way that’s to be vacated has a value of greater than $2,500, “a charge may be imposed upon the acquiring entity, not in excess of the fair market value of the parcel, as a condition of the abandonment and vacation.”
That’s on top of other fees St. Luke’s would have to pay.
Now, calculating the value of the two-block Jefferson Street right-of-way is tricky. Should you assign it the same per-square-foot value as the land on either side of the street? Or does an abandoned street have special value? If anyone knows an appraiser who’s done this kind of work, please let me know.
Comparable sales, appraisers’ main guidelines for value, don’t really exist. Even the county assessor’s office isn’t much help. St. Luke’s owns the land on both sides of Jefferson Street and, in fact, all over that corner of Downtown. Because the hospital is a nonprofit, it doesn’t pay taxes, so the assessor doesn’t calculate the value of that land.
The best comparison point I could find was a 0.64-acre — similar to the size of the Jefferson Street right-of-way St. Luke’s wants to close — lot on the southeast corner of Reserve and Krall streets. The assessor valued that land at $225,000 this year.