When Southeast Boise residents heard that a new student apartment building was proposed for their neighborhood, their reaction was immediate: not another one.
The building, proposed by St. Louis-based Collegiate Development Group, would have 198 apartments with a total of 526 beds at the southwest corner of West Boise Avenue and South Protest Road. The four-story project would also include over 260 spaces of below-ground parking.
In 2018, diagonally across the intersection, a 94-unit, five-story apartment building called Identity opened. Many neighbors saw that as the encroachment of Boise State University toward their residential neighborhoods.
This new building would be double the size of Identity. On Tuesday, the developer hosted a city-required meeting with neighbors at the Holiday Inn Express on Boise Avenue.
It was scheduled to run from 6 to 6:30 p.m. That was wishful thinking.
About 60 people crowded into a small conference room, staying an hour past the programmed end time to voice their frustration with a project that could block their views and flood the area with more students.
The room was red-hot with emotion. Neighbors repeatedly raised their voices, shouting over one another and the developer’s representatives.
“Who cares about the students?” a woman shouted. “They don’t bring anything to our community!”
The developers tried to cut in, only to be shut down again. From the back, a woman piped up, “Give them a chance to talk!”
For many, the project brought up concerns echoing throughout Boise about disappearing affordable housing. If built, the student housing project would require demolishing about 20 one-story apartments, displacing residents.
“Many of us are going to be homeless at a time when the community needs more affordable housing, not less,” said Mike Wallace, who has lived in his apartment there for 18 years. “These aren’t places where we sleep during the school year and then go home to mom and dad. These are our houses.”
Those units currently go for about $850 a month for a two-bedroom. The Collegiate Development Group anticipates setting its rents at an average of $750 per bedroom, including utilities. A studio would be about $1,000 a month. Non-students would also be allowed to rent.
The residents worry also about losing some of the greenery on that corner. A large part of the property is paved over with a parking lot. It is home to a former Maverik gas station and Big Jud’s restaurant, but several large trees surround the apartments.
“The last thing we need is to wipe out that oasis and erect a monstrosity,” Wallace said.
Brandt Stiles, principal at Collegiate Development Group, said, “We will be replacing any of the trees that we have on the site.”
The company already has hosted a meeting with a few neighborhood leaders and changed the design of the project significantly.
The initial design was four stories throughout. The project they brought before the neighbors Thursday was terraced, with three stories facing Boise Avenue and Protest Street and a section with a fourth floor toward the back of the property, which the developers say will not affect neighbors’ views of downtown Boise. The previous design showed a four-story parking structure, while this iteration places the parking below ground.
That wasn’t enough for many residents. In a neighborhood crowded with street parking, many questioned whether the apartment’s 206 parking spaces would be enough.
Mitch Korte, the apartments’ development manager, said that one of the project’s goals is to encourage students to use other modes of transportation, like walking or biking.
“We believe there are a good number of students who will not bring cars,” he said.
The room erupted in derisive laughter.
The meeting demonstrated anew that even as Boise Mayor David Bieter tries to push for more dense housing near downtown, residents outside of downtown frequently balk at higher density in their own neighborhoods.
“Why is this project good for our neighborhood?” someone asked.
Korte launched into his pitch. He said the project would address a student housing need. He suggested that houses currently occupied by students could be freed for new owner-occupants.
“For investors!” a woman replied.
Collegiate Development Group also has proposed a seven-story, 258-unit apartment building for “young professionals” near WinCo in downtown Boise.
The developer has not yet closed on the Boise Avenue property, which is owned by the Vernon K. Brassey Family Partnership. Korte said it could be a year before the company gets the property entitled for development, which would include passing a design review and rezoning the to allow for higher density.