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He wants to build high-rises. Neighbors say no. Meet Boise's councilman with a conflict

Boise city councilman, developer takes council’s suggestions to heart for his proposed Central Addition project

After initially being denied a green light for his Central Addition project by Boise Planning and Zoning, developer Scot Ludwig gets a nod from the city council if he makes changes to his Downtown plan.
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After initially being denied a green light for his Central Addition project by Boise Planning and Zoning, developer Scot Ludwig gets a nod from the city council if he makes changes to his Downtown plan.

Scot Ludwig is the Boise City Council's most boisterous member. His handshake is firm. His voice booms. He laughs a lot.

"Scot just has this really vivacious, welcoming energy," said Councilwoman Lisa Sanchez, who sits next to Ludwig during council meetings and calls him "one of my favorite people in the world."

That energy was absent from City Hall last Tuesday. The 59-year-old, who makes his living as a lawyer and a land developer, stayed away, because the council held a hearing on his plan for a two-building condominium and parking development. That project, and Ludwig's role as a developer asking for its approval from the very council he serves on, has drawn criticism and pushed Ludwig into the spotlight.

Ludwig proposed an 11-story high-rise linked to its nine-story companion by a sky bridge over Broad Street. His critics say that it wouldn't fit Downtown's Central Addition neighborhood and that he has a conflict of interest. His supporters love the project and see good faith in his willingness to stay out of the council's voting and deliberations on it.

Few on either side know about the heartache behind Ludwig's public face. Ten years ago, his sister — a 50-year-old mother of three — was killed in a domestic-violence incident.

"It was very sad," Ludwig said. "It really was a big dose of reality that [domestic violence] is a really big issue in our society."

Bronco by choice

Born in Fargo, North Dakota, Ludwig moved to Iowa City, Iowa, when he was about 13. His parents were educators. His father was a public school administrator. His mother, Ann Ludwig, was a college fine-arts teacher who founded A Ludwig Dance Theatre in Tempe, Arizona.

He graduated high school in 1979. Already, he had targeted Boise. He said he read a report that Ada County was the second-fastest growing county in the country, next to Dade County, Florida. He saw Boise as "the land of opportunity."

He earned a basketball scholarship at Boise State University, where he played point guard. After graduating, he enrolled in the University of Idaho's law school. Boise Mayor David Bieter was his classmate.

He finished law school in 1985 and landed a job with a Boise family law firm. Eight years later, he founded what is now Ludwig, Shoufler, Miller and Johnson. He is married and has four children between the ages of 12 and 20.

'A deal maker'

Ludwig got into real estate about the same time he founded the law firm. He acquired an unfinished single-family home in the Boise Foothills' Quail Ridge subdivision that was in foreclosure, finished it and sold it. Ludwig said the real estate agent did a fraction of the work and made three times as much money as he did.

Over the past 25 years, he's taken on more ambitious projects, most notably the Idaho Independent Bank building at 401 W. Front St. — a six-story project he designed and then sold to a builder. His law offices are located on the building's fourth floor. He's also planning a housing development in Ketchum, though that project is on hold.

"I love to be a deal maker," he said.

The two buildings he proposes on the corner of 5th and Broad streets generated a backlash from people who say the buildings are too tall for the surrounding area and the sky bridge too intrusive upon public space.

Critics also question whether it's ethical for Ludwig to take on a big project while he sits on the City Council and Boise's urban-renewal agency, the Capital City Development Corp.

"It should never be happening, because he's a sitting City Council person and I feel like there's a lot of implicit and explicit conflicts of interest," Lori DiCaire, who started the Facebook Page "Vanishing Boise" and testified against Ludwig's project, told the Idaho Statesman in April.

Ludwig said he's been careful to avoid talking to city staffers and his fellow council members about the project, which he's been working on since before Mayor David Bieter appointed him to the council in 2015.

Last Tuesday, June 5, the other five members of the council voted 4-1 to send the project back to Ludwig with a request that he consider eliminating or shrinking the sky bridge, reducing the amount of parking in the project and adding more retail space along 5th Street.

Ludwig said the project won't work without the sky bridge. His team is scheduled to present a new plan to the council July 24.

The lone Republican

Ludwig's seat on the City Council opened up when longtime member David Eberle moved to Garden City. Bieter, a Democrat, appointed Ludwig, a Republican, in February 2015 from a field of 32 applicants. Ludwig's competitors included Democratic former state Rep. Holli Woodings, who was elected to the council last year. Bieter said Ludwig's business and real estate experience would be an asset to the council.

Ludwig ran for the seat in November 2015 and won handily over Adriel Martinez, a political novice.

From the start, he wasn't shy about speaking up in meetings, whether the city was a working on a policy to regulate Uber or considering an expansion of St. Luke's Boise Medical Center's Downtown campus.

"He jumped in with thoughtful, well-researched opinions and with a good, clear understanding," said Maryanne Jordan, a Democratic state senator who sat on the council with Ludwig for almost three years before retiring in January. "He stepped into this position for the right reasons. He does it because he wants to give back to a community that's given him a lot."

Ludwig is the council's only Republican. He endorsed John Kasich for president ahead of the 2016 Idaho primary.

But partisan ideology is barely evident in discussions by the council, a nonpartisan body. Last year, after racially charged violence erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, it was Ludwig who spurred the council to pass a resolution denouncing hatred.

“Racism is an affront to the ideals of our nation and the conscience of our residents,” his resolution read.

Ludwig said his experience in office has convinced him that the city should put more emphasis on attracting employers who pay their workers good wages instead of pursuing low-paying jobs.

At times, he's been more willing than his colleagues to accommodate real estate developments, such as when he recommended approval of Boise developer Jim Conger's 410-home Rush Valley subdivision on the eastern edge of town. But mostly, his opinions are close to theirs. He is quick to praise fellow members' comments before votes.

"Those guys I work with are so insightful, smart, transparent," he said. "(They) really know what's good for Boise, and so they ask the good questions."

Ludwig said he has not decided if he'll run for re-election next year.

'One of my mentors'

Ludwig said his sister's death made domestic violence a focus in his professional and private lives. He said he regularly represents victims of domestic violence for free. He donates time and part of his City Council salary to the Women's and Children's Alliance.

He took on a pro bono case at the request of Sanchez, who works for the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program, an organization that provides legal service for poor people. "That just touched my heart immensely," Sanchez said.

Sanchez called Ludwig "one of my mentors." When she took office in January, he told her she belongs on the council and appreciates that she, a Latina, brings ethnic diversity to the otherwise all-white panel.

"We, on paper, look very, very different," she said. "I'm so progressive I'm not even a registered Democrat. And here he is, the only Republican on the council. But it just goes to show you, at the end of the day, people are people."

This story has been revised. An earlier version incorrectly said the proposed sky bridge would be Boise's first. Sven Berg:208-377-6275,@SvenBerg51