Affordable housing was the core of Boise Mayor David Bieter’s State of the City speech last week. He also talked about diversifying the local economy with hundreds of industrial jobs that pay good wages and don’t require advanced degrees.
Those jobs would put home ownership within reach of some residents who cannot afford houses now. But the jobs themselves might be at cross purposes with affordable housing, said John Gannon, a Boise lawyer.
The jobs Bieter cited would be based at a proposed industrial park on city-owned land across Interstate 84 from Micron Technology, east of a WinCo distribution center and south of Blue Valley, a nearly 60-acre swath of land — with its own lake — where more than 200 mobile homes stand. Gannon, who has represented some Blue Valley residents as an attorney, advocates for the preservation of affordable housing as a legislator.
That’s 200 units of affordable housing, an increasingly scarce resource in the Treasure Valley. And housing and industrial parks don’t make good neighbors.
Bieter is working to save Blue Valley from the threat the industrial park, a planned truck terminal and other developments pose, said Mike Journee, the mayor’s spokesman. Blue Valley has organized as an official neighborhood association — a designation that would boost its residents’ influence on surrounding development.
And work is underway on an urban renewal district that Journee said could add things like sidewalks, street lighting and school bus dropoff points, making Blue Valley a better place to live.
“We think an urban renewal district would benefit Blue Valley greatly,” he said. “We’re working really hard to minimize the impact on that development.”
Blue Valley’s residents aren’t against the industrial park, said Bonnie Hardey, who lives in the mobile home park and helped establish the neighborhood association.
“We’re just wanting to blend with it,” Hardey said. “We realize where the city’s coming from, but at the same time, we want preservation of our livelihood, too.”
‘To withstand the inevitable downturn’
The city of Boise owns about 300 acres near Blue Valley and the WinCo distribution center. For years, it has hoped to use the land to attract industrial development, including a “transload” facility — immediately west of Blue Valley — where a full-size, 100-car train could be loaded and unloaded to and from shipping trucks.
That project has never materialized, but the city is still hoping, said Nic Miller, Bieter’s director of economic development.
In March, the city approved an agreement with Salt Lake City developer Boyer Co., to develop an industrial park on several parcels that total about 150 acres south and east of WinCo’s warehouse. The city will lease the land for 12.5 percent of Boyer’s profits, Miller said.
“We see this as a good time to attract more industry in a different sector of the economy to diversify our economy in Boise and hopefully prepare ourselves to withstand the inevitable downturn,” he said.
Boise’s deal requires Boyer to build at least 125,000 square feet of industrial space by 2023 in order to extend it another five years, during which it must build another 125,000 square feet, Miller said. Boyer hired Thornton Oliver Keller, a Boise commercial real estate firm, to find customers.
Dave Ward, Boyer’s project manager, said his firm has been in discussions with prospective tenants. He declined to name them or to comment on negotiations with them, except to say, “It’s very preliminary.”
The role of urban renewal
On Aug. 28, the City Council directed Boise’s urban renewal agency, Capital City Development Corp., to start writing a plan for establishing a new urban renewal district in a 3,500-acre area on both sides of I-84 between the Broadway Avenue and Eisenman Road exits.
The district could provide money for infrastructure improvements that would make the industrial park and other property more attractive for economic development. That could someday deliver manufacturing jobs whose numbers in Boise have declined over the last decade, Miller said.
“The development may not even happen if not for that urban renewal district,” he said. “Chobani and Clif Bar would not have been been able to do what they do in Twin Falls if they didn’t have the urban renewal or economic development tool that they did to help the public infrastructure, which led to significant job creation and investment from the private sector.”
Risks for mobile-home residents
For the people who live in Blue Valley, the industrial park is another project to keep an eye on. They’re already jumpy over a proposed trucking terminal planned on their northern boundary. The diesel fumes, engine noise and nonstop traffic threatens their rural tranquility.
They’re painfully aware that the land they live on and the fields that surround it are zoned for industrial uses.
The terminal could be just the beginning, said Gannon, the lawyer, who also is a state legislator representing much of Boise’s Bench..
He worries that industrial uses, including Boise’s proposed industrial park, will close in on Blue Valley from all sides. Eventually, he said, environmental disruption could drive out the people who live there. Or the owner might sell the land, sending residents in search of other affordable places to live, which might mean homes subsidized by taxpayers.
“If you’ve got a setup where you don’t have subsidies, I mean, why mess with it?” Gannon said.
‘A meeting is so important’
Like Hardey, Gannon thinks Boise can find a way to have the park and protect Blue Valley.
Journee, the mayor’s spokesman, agreed. He said planning staffers are working to ensure that a sound wall is built between the trucking terminal and the homes. The city will work to make sure traffic and environmental impacts — like noise from other development in the area, including the proposed industrial park — don’t unreasonably affect the residents, he said.
Becoming a city-recognized neighborhood will help Blue Valley in. For example, R+L Carriers, the terminal’s developer, would have been required to hold a meeting with Blue Valley residents before applying for permits if Blue Valley were an official neighborhood. Most residents found out after the application was filed, just a few days before a city meeting to review the project’s design.
Gannon wishes R+L had given Blue Valley a heads-up before applying. “A meeting is so important,” he said. “A meaningful meeting — I want to emphasize that.”
Hardey wants to Boise to include some transitional space between the industrial park and Blue Valley’s homes. That space would have some combination of trees or other greenery, berms and distance to reduce the noise reaching the homes, she said. She hasn’t determined how much distance and screening would be needed.
“It’s a workable situation,” she said. “Whether the city will agree to it — that’s yet to be seen.”