To most, the parking lot at 1101 S. Denver Ave. is nothing but pavement with painted lines. But to Bill Pubols, it is a philosophical line in the sand.
The property is at the heart of a State Board of Education decision that may determine whether Boise State University is able to build its proposed baseball stadium as the campus expands.
The Idaho State Board of Education on Thursday approved a motion allowing Boise State the ability to pursue eminent domain to acquire three pieces of land between South Grant Avenue and South Denver Avenue to build its stadium.
Eminent domain, by definition, is a tool used to acquire private property for public use after being deemed in the best interests of the public; the private property owner is compensated accordingly for the land.
As the executive director of the Biblical Studies Center whose parking lot is one of the three parcels Boise State can try to acquire, Pubols doesn’t view the use of eminent domain as the “greater good.”
“To assume that this is Boise State’s plan and it must be in the greater interest of the community ... I would take issue with that,” he said. “But I suppose that comes down to who pulls the strings and who makes those decisions.”
Pubols also feels like the university isn’t making concessions to meet him halfway in attempted negotiations. All he wants is parking spots, he said.
“To me, they are doing what they want to do because they can get away with it,” Pubols said. “There’s a reason eminent domain law exists, but I feel like it’s become a weapon more than a tool.”
Can BSU do this?
The Biblical Studies Center, along with a pair of apartment complexes located at 1104-1108 S. Grant Ave. and 1116-1122 W. Beacon St., are the three pieces of land Boise State does not own on that block. The apartments on South Grant Avenue have been purchased and closed on, according to Boise State general counsel Matt Wilde. The other two remain in flux.
The Biblical Studies Center is a nondenominational learning center and has served students at BSU in some capacity since the early 1970s. Pubols said he used to serve as the chaplain for the Boise State football team; he loves the university and has worked with its students for years. But he feels like he is getting the short end of the deal.
According to Idaho Code 7-711A, eminent domain must meet three thresholds:
- “The property is needed for a public use authorized by Idaho law
- The taking of the property is necessary to such use
- The taking must be located in the manner which will be most compatible with the greatest public good and the least private injury.”
Wilde is part of Boise State’s in-house legal team. He said he has never filed eminent domain proceedings, as negotiations have always been met prior to taking that step. In terms of meeting the standards for eminent domain, Wilde told the Statesman that a baseball stadium passes the test.
“Under the state code ... as long as it serves a public purpose, (it fits eminent domain),” he said. “And this would serve a public service and case law.”
Because Boise State already owns all the other property in that area, Wilde doesn’t think the move should come as a surprise. When it comes down to it, eminent domain is about making progress, which can require tough choices to be made, he said.
“That goes right to the root of eminent domain and its nature,” Wilde said. “That’s how we get Greenbelts. That’s how we get streets and roads ... that’s sometimes how we get elementary schools built ... it’s a public service project. I think that’s the heart of (it).”
The landlord of the apartments at 1116-1122 W. Beacon St. could not be reached for comment.
42 parking spots
Pubols doesn’t see the move as progress. He said that he feels “bullied” and that the center might have trouble sustaining itself.
The lot in question is not located on the center’s premises; it is directly across the street. Boise State does not own the parcel the center itself resides on.
The parking lot can hold 42 cars, Pubols said, and is the only guaranteed parking available for visitors. The center has plans to expand and add a third story to its building so it can hold large groups. A lack of parking would hurt its growth and, to an extent, cripple it, he said.
In Boise State’s current plans, the center’s lot would be right field for the baseball field, Wilde said.
“This really comes down to 42 parking spots. It’s a necessity for us to grow and expand,” Pubols said. “If we don’t have the guarantee of them we’re really going to be out of luck.”
The parking spots have been at the heart of negotiation issues, according to Wilde and Pubols. Wilde said both sides have been fairly close in their appraisals for the lot. Where they haven’t been able to meet, according to Pubols, is where visitors of the center would park. He said some spots have been offered, but not enough to make up for what they would lose.
“(If we had parking guaranteed), we would have signed that deal a year ago before the words ‘eminent domain’ even got whispered,” Pubols said. “I love Boise State. I want what’s best for Boise State, and I’m willing to make accommodation and allowances. ... That’s why it’s frustrating to be to be put in this position. I feel like I’m being baited.”
Wilde said Boise State is attempting to find parking nearby for the center to use. And he said he was caught off guard by the notion that the negotiations have been unfair. He said there has been trouble communicating with the center, with some messages and corresponding mail going “unanswered.”
“I’ve got a pretty good team on campus who would be disappointed he feels that way,” Wilde said. “I don’t think we are bullying anyone. We are trying to negotiate with them.”
Wilde also said he can understand the frustration Pubols and the owners of other properties in question are feeling. Being told they have to negotiate is a tough pill to swallow, he said.
“I totally get it,” Wilde said. “If somebody called me and said we need your property and we are going to send you an offer ... I think that would probably catch me off guard.”
Pubols said legal action is possible going forward, though he is unsure of the resources his team has at hand.
The issue for him isn’t the money Boise State is offering; he knows the center would be compensated appropriately. But money will get the biblical center only so far, he said. Those parking spots are needed.
“The money, that is great,” he said. “But what are we going to do? Take it to Vegas?”