These Boise neighborhoods offer sense of belonging

Tyler Williams and Shae Hughes wheeling around Hidden Springs.
Tyler Williams and Shae Hughes wheeling around Hidden Springs. Special to the Idaho Statesman

Once, on a hillside north of town, cattle grazed peacefully, disturbed only by freight wagons and stagecoaches traveling on Cartwright Toll Road. South of the ranch, on the valley floor by the Boise River, a slaughterhouse processed beef from cattle raised on the hills above.

No longer.

Only the geography of the land remains unchanged. Now these acres have little connection. But look south of the river, and a connection exists — the planned community

Follow Gary Lane north about 7 miles to find the Hidden Springs community. Only the springs remain hidden, however, as this area now supports hundreds of homes with hundreds more planned. Follow Chinden Boulevard and turn toward the river on East 36th Street to discover the Waterfront District, a stunning new urban community within a community within a community. Boise wraps around the Waterfront District, but the neighborhood is built on Garden City soil.

Waterfront District

Contractor Scott Asin has built many of the homes in the Waterfront District developed by Jim Neil. Neil was able to keep his vision of a waterfront community moving forward through the recession. Now the area sports 110 finished homes, from single-family houses to three-story townhomes with work/live units. Soon condos will be added to the mix, bringing the total number of residences to 175.

Asin says most of the residents he has met love the outdoors and enjoy access to the river, which, along with the Greenbelt, forms their backyards.

On a recent biking adventure to the area, I met two residents, Megan and Mary, enjoying a spring evening as they sat chatting in Mary’s front yard. When I asked how they felt about the neighborhood, they responded with infectious enthusiasm. They agreed that the area is more than simply a neighborhood — it is a true community designed for those who want connection but are tired of the typical cares of suburban life. Mary loves her three-story row home (four, she says, if you count the underground garage).

Why? It’s a great contemporary design with plenty of space, and the stairs provide a built-in Stairmaster. “Best of all, though,” she says, “is the rooftop terrace with its splendid views of the river, Downtown and the Foothills.”

Megan loves the location that she finds central to so much. “It’s only a couple of miles from about everything — Downtown, hospitals, grocery stores, restaurants, etc.”

But there is more. It’s a place, she says, where neighbors know and value each other, and that is important both to her and to her 10-year-old daughter. As if to prove her point, a couple of neighbors stopped by. One, dressed in his wetsuit and carrying a surfboard, chatted only a moment before heading over to the nearby waterpark, where he planned to give the day a finishing touch. Nick Jezierny came by and added his comments to the conversation. He loves that he now has no yard work. He laid down artificial turf on the small yard that fronts his home. They spoke of informal and spontaneous supper gatherings and “yappy hour” — bring along the pooch!

Despite its name and its origins, Garden City is not generally known for its flora. But as luck would have it, Gossett Landscaping Company owns adjacent property on 36th Street, and its grounds provide curbside appeal right at the entrance to the Waterfront District. The city, too, has made an effort to enhance this stretch of 36th Street by adding street lamps, trees and upgraded sidewalks and parking. Luciano’s, a popular local Italian restaurant, has purchased land on the eastern edge of the development, and soon aromas of lasagna and risotto will waft through the air. A lot of things are going well in the Waterfront District.

Hidden Springs

It was drizzling the day my friend Candy Miller and I headed up the hill to Hidden Springs. Because of the weather, we left our bikes behind, choosing instead to walk the community under umbrellas. It was raining steadily when we pulled in, so we headed to the small commercial area near the entrance of the neighborhood to wait out the storm. The Dry Creek Mercantile, a combination general store and eatery, was buzzing with conversation and energy amid the delectable aroma of cooking breakfasts. There, residents had gathered to start their day over hearty meals and steaming beverages. We claimed our own mugs and began talking to the people in the café.

Robert Ostolasa shared that his aunt, who currently lives in the area, once lived in the original Ostolasa farmhouse that has been preserved for its historical value. Located on the far end of the development, it is open to the public for tours. The house and the adjacent “learning farm” help retain a bit of the original rural feel of the area. We met Erin Tippets, the owner of the local preschool located just a few doors down the walkway. She told us that the learning farm, operated by Kristin White and Emerald Clarkston, is designed to engage kids with plants, farm animals and wildlife. It is a place Tippets’ preschool kids visit often to explore and learn.

That portion of Hidden Springs also sports a community building designed for family events, including hands-on gardening experiences, guest speakers and special events for the kids. During the summer months, the action moves back to the commons area adjacent to the Mercantile. There on the grounds, local performers provide free concerts.

We took a damp walk, winding our way through neighborhoods of family homes, community pools and interconnecting paths. Despite the drizzle, kids were out on their bikes and couples walked their dogs along the quiet streets. One couple, Daryll and Candy Olsen, mentioned to us that they particularly enjoyed hiking in the surrounding Foothills and the general peacefulness of the area. They moved from St. George, Utah, where the pace had become hectic and the traffic heavy. In Hidden Springs, they found a place that reminded them of the fabled Mayberry of “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Not every neighborhood that my friend and I have visited exhibits the sense of connectedness and cohesiveness that residents of these two planned communities enjoy, and not everyone longs to belong. But for those who do, these two markedly different planned communities have strong appeal.

Why buy in planned communities?

“In our fast-paced society, many are drawn to planned developments with the hope of finding a sense of community ... and belonging,” says Kim Weissinger, an associate broker with Silvercreek Realty Group. “Even those who might not participate in many events tend to appreciate and applaud the offerings and the resulting positive impact felt in the community.”

About this series

Longtime West Bench resident Ellie McKinnon, in looking for a new home somewhere in Boise, explored each of the city’s neighborhoods by bike — uncovering their best assets, talking to residents, soaking up the vibes — and has been writing a column every month or two that highlights what she’s discovered.