Mayor Bieter discusses the importance of preserving historic homes in Downtown Boise
The owner of the historic Boise house the City Council just protected by emergency ordinance says he has no desire to demolish it — though demolition remains an option.
Bill Hon said that “the last thing” he wants is to tear down the house at 140 W. Main St. Hon said he and city officials discussed potential options for renovating the home last week, most of which involved keeping the building.
“We’re looking at five or six different alternatives when it comes to the property, and one of them deals with demolition,” he told the Idaho Statesman on Thursday. “... The last thing we want is something that is going to be bad for the city.”
The home at 140 West Main Street was built in 1897 by Alfred Eoff and is part of a two-block historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. It was designed by renowned Boise architects John E. Tourtellotte and Charles Hummel, who designed the Idaho Capitol, according to local architecture historian Dan Everhart. Gov. James Brady once owned it.
Hon said he is semi-retired from real estate work and still owns several Boise properties. He said he working with a group of potential developers whom he declined to identify, saying only that they are ”very experienced and very well-respected.”
The council passed the ordinance Tuesday to prevent the demolition or alteration of the house and 10 surrounding structures within the national historic district. During the moratorium, the city will attempt to make the area a local historic district, which would restrict what he could do with the property.
City officials said Hon “has publicly telegraphed his intention to remove or demolish the house in order to construct new housing on the property.”
“The owner has explained that the plumbing and wiring in the house are in poor condition and that he does not want to upgrade or reuse the house as part of a larger development,” Hal Simmons and Ted Vanegas of Boise’s Planning and Development Services wrote in a memo to the council and Mayor David Bieter. “He appears intent on obtaining a demolition permit for the house within the next several months.”
Hon, who moved back to Boise six years ago after living in Florida for a time, said he was taken aback by the decision to pass the 182 day moratorium, and that “there’s not a sense of urgency” on his part to do anything with the house, which is subdivided into apartments.
“The reaction to it is surprising to our group, because we had not had a chance to investigate the alternatives the city was offering, which all had to do with saving the building,” Hon said. “We’re all lovers of Boise.”
But Simmons and Vanegas tell a different story in their memo about meeting with Hon, whom they did not identify by name.
“We also discussed the potential for City involvement through either a land trade or outright purchase of the property by the City,” their memo said. “He would entertain both options, but his price is high, and there are limited options for a property swap. The owner has expressed that he is in a hurry to reach a decision, leaving insufficient time to pursue a property transaction.”
The memo also said, “The owner prefers to have someone purchase the house and move it to another property in the area; he has suggested the Assay Office park site across the street. We believe this is infeasible.”
The National Register does not protect property from demolition, said Paula Benson, the board president of Preservation Idaho; it is more of a signifier. The only protection is through local historic district designation, which the home and its surrounding structures do not have. The demolition of a couple of old homes led to a proposal in 1993 to create a local district, but it went nowhere.
The emergency ordinance protects the property for six months, under a council finding of an “imminent public peril to the health, safety, or welfare of the public.”
Hon said he isn’t sure yet whether he will challenge the moratorium. “Nobody wants a fight,” he said.
Hon, whose mother, Romaine Galey Hon, was a Statesman food columnist for 21 years, said he’s not surprised that Boise wants “to save old buildings.”
“I understand where they’re coming from,” Hon said. “We want a positive outcome. There’s a bunch of proposals out there. It’s a little foggy right now, I have to admit. But we’ll get through it.”
Hon declined to tell the Statesman what alternatives to demolition he is considering. However, he said if the house stays put, the extent of its upgrades will come down to whether he wants to keep doing small, frequent upgrades or one large-scale project, he said.
“It’s a special place, no question,” Hon said. “(Demolition) would be the last alternative. We’re trying every way possible not to destroy it.”