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Those 2 proposed high rises linked by a sky bridge? Boise City Council says OK, but ...

An artist’s rendering shows how two buildings proposed for 5th and Broad streets in Downtown Boise would be linked by a sky bridge and a landscaped terrace. Front Street is in the foreground, with Concordia University School of Law at lower right.
An artist’s rendering shows how two buildings proposed for 5th and Broad streets in Downtown Boise would be linked by a sky bridge and a landscaped terrace. Front Street is in the foreground, with Concordia University School of Law at lower right.

The Boise City Council on Tuesday asked fellow council member Scot Ludwig to explore ways to rework the two-building project he wants to build on the corner of 5th and Broad streets in Downtown's Central Addition neighborhood.

A sky bridge that would connect the two towers across Broad Street is the main feature of the project that the council wants Ludwig to re-evaluate. Councilwoman Elaine Clegg, especially, expressed some heartburn over it.

"My concern is that we're creating a precedent to use air space for a private use with very little public gain," Clegg said.

The sky bridge quickly became a point of controversy almost as soon as Ludwig's team filed paperwork for the project. It would be Boise's first Downtown sky bridge connecting two buildings. Critics say it would be out of keeping with the surrounding area.

Ludwig did not take part in the hearing. He did not attend any of the council's functions Tuesday because, he said, he didn't want to improperly influence his fellow council members. Opponents of his project worried that, even though he didn't vote on the project, his relationship with the rest of the council would influence them inappropriately.

In December, Ludwig proposed an 11-story, 130,000-square-foot building between West Broad and Front streets on 5th’s east side, across from Concordia University law school. He proposed a nine-story, 147,500-square-foot building on the southeast corner of 5th and Front across from the recently opened Fowler Apartments. The buildings would include condos and ground-floor retail.

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Ludwig's representatives said the sky bridge is needed to connect the first several floors of parking in the building south of Broad Street to two floors of parking in the north building. Council President Lauren McLean wondered if Ludwig could simply remove the parking in the north building and eliminate the bridge.

That would reduce the project's total parking capacity by about 120 spaces, but it would leave more than enough spaces for the project itself. Ludwig's representatives said he wanted to provide extra parking spaces for the public to use when they visit businesses in the Central Addtion, Downtown to the north or Julia Davis Park to the south.

The council also asked Ludwig's team to consider adding more ground-floor retail space on the 5th Street side of the south building and commit to substituting homes in the buildings in place of the offices he originally planned.

Boise's Planning and Zoning Commission denied Ludwig's project in March. Commissioners said the nine-story south building would be too tall for the area. They cited the Central Addition Master Plan, which calls for buildings of no more than six stories on the lot where the south building would be located.

But Ludwig and his team said the master plan was written to allow flexibility and not meant as a strict set of rules. They argued that his project would fulfill more of the goals of the plan than it flouts. On Tuesday, City Council members agreed on that point.

Ludwig appealed the Planning and Zoning decision to the City Council. The council upheld his appeal by a vote of 4-1. Several members said Planning and Zoning commissioners erred by not considering everything they should have, such as the whole Central Addition Master Plan, which encourages the conversion of surface parking lots to high-intensity commercial and residential projects, a greater supply of housing in the neighborhood and other developments.

T.J. Thomson was the only council member to vote against the motion. He said the council had enough information to approve the project.

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