Bieter speaks with Dicaire at City Hall
The debate over a new urban-renewal district in far southeast Boise took two surprise turns Tuesday night.
First, worried residents of a mobile-home park in the district found some common ground with the City Council, some of whose members view the district as Boise’s last, best hope to broaden Boise’s manufacturing sector with middle-class jobs. The common ground during a public hearing appeared to ease tensions, at least for now.
Second, Mayor David Bieter showed his ire with a couple of Boise community activists who have given him grief in the past year over proposed high-density development in Northwest Boise, the opposite end of town.
The activists argued that affordable housing in the mobile-home park needs to be preserved. Bieter contends the activists back affordable housing as long as it’s not in their own back yards. “I think it’s elitist,” he told them at the meeting.
The district would encompass 3,260 acres mostly west of Interstate 84 between the Broadway Avenue and Eisenman Road exits, across the freeway from Micron Technology. Most of the area is undeveloped desert, though it has a few businesses, including WinCo and Shopko distribution centers.
An urban renewal district there would not impose any new taxes but would siphon all increases in property-tax collections above today’s levels for the next 20 years. For all other taxing agencies, revenue generated from taxes on property inside the district would not rise until 2039. The district would use its money, estimated at $96 million, to entice private development by paying for roads, utilities and other improvements whose cost otherwise could scare off businesses.
The district would envelop Blue Valley, a community of 200 mobile and manufactured homes north of the WinCo distribution center. Blue Valley residents are fighting a proposed trucking terminal on their north border — a fight the council is scheduled to take up next Tuesday, Dec. 18. That terminal led Blue Valley’s residents to form a new neighborhood association this fall.
As they testified Tuesday, residents mostly pleaded to preserve a quality of life that includes well-kept homes and lawns, a series of lakes that attract birds, and a sense of community.
The association’s president, Bonnie Hardey, and others expressed concerns about problems that an urban-renewal district probably cannot solve. Those include the Boise School District’s unwillingness to drive onto the neighborhood’s privately owned roads to pick up children, and the possibility that Blue Valley’s owner could one day sell the property. Residents own their homes but not the land.
However, the urban-renewal district could help establish a buffer of land around the mobile home park to keep industrial development at a distance. And it could help with sidewalks along Eisenman Road to make foot travel safer, especially for children who must board and depart school buses on Eisenman.
After their testimony, the council voted to revise its proposed ordinance to direct the city’s urban renewal agency, the Capital City Development Corp., to support Blue Valley with investments like those as soon as it can.
Underlying the change was the council’s — and the audience’s — desire to maintain a source of affordable housing in a city where it has become scarce.
“I live there to be cheap,” Cara Cain, a single mother, told the council. “If I didn’t have my home, I would be forced to be on a housing voucher. ... I just want to be sure that our homes are protected.”
Enter the community activists who irritate the mayor.
One of them is Richard Llewellyn, the president of the North West Boise Neighborhood Association. He galvanized opposition last winter to a proposed development of apartments and other high-density housing on eight acres along Hill Road Parkway west of Bogart Lane. Llewellyn and others say the project would destroy that neighborhood’s semirural character.
After Llewellyn testified in favor of the urban-renewal district with conditions to protect Blue Valley, Bieter asked if that meant LLewellyn supported affordable housing there while opposing it in Northwest Boise. Llewellyn had already left the lectern where speakers address the council. He shrugged.
The other activist is Lori Dicaire, who runs a Facebook page called Vanishing Boise. “Mobile homes are a solution to the affordable-housing crisis,” she testified.
Bieter contends the apartments proposed in Northwest Boise are affordable housing, too. After the meeting, the mayor walked into the audience area of the council chambers and argued with Dicaire. He challenged the assertion by Dicaire and Llewellyn that the Hill Road Parkway land is farmland.
“Farmers can’t farm there,” Bieter told her.
“Well, that’s one person’s opinion,” Dicaire replied.
Farmers, Dicaire said, “are being run out. Their property taxes are skyrocketing. They can’t afford to farm anymore.”
“No,” Bieter replied. “It’s because there’s no fricking farmland. And you need a lot more farmland than you used to need [to farm].”
The exchange echoed a lecture Bieter gave last March at a town-hall meeting, when growth dominated residents’ concerns.
“To those of you in the northwest and in other parts of town,” Bieter said then, “you don’t live in the country. I mean that sincerely. We’re in the city. You might have gotten used to a little more rural kind of [life]. It’s just not that way.”
Most of the new urban-renewal district will not get new housing, affordable or not. Officials said that’s because most of it lies in an “airport influence area” where jets fly overhead. New housing there is prohibited by agreements the city, which runs the Boise Airport, made with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Council members told Blue Valley residents that the district will give the city more power to improve their surroundings than it has now.
“Boise doesn’t have a really diverse economy,” Councilwoman Elaine Clegg said. “We have a good top end and a good bottom end, but not a lot in the middle ... This urban-renewal district could encourage middle-wage jobs.”
Councilwoman Holli Woodings agreed. “This is going to go far in really giving us the jobs we need,” she said.
This story has been corrected. An earlier version misstated the acreage of the proposed urban renewal district.