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Low-income apartments under fire in Star

Chance Hobbs, a partner in VCD, hopes to build Moon Valley Apartments in this 2.7-acre empty lot. Many residents of the neighboring Pinewood Lake subdivision behind him oppose the project. “They are saying, ‘Not in our backyard,’ ” Hobbs said. “If I moved the project to a 9-acre lot another 200 yards down the road, they wouldn’t care.”
Chance Hobbs, a partner in VCD, hopes to build Moon Valley Apartments in this 2.7-acre empty lot. Many residents of the neighboring Pinewood Lake subdivision behind him oppose the project. “They are saying, ‘Not in our backyard,’ ” Hobbs said. “If I moved the project to a 9-acre lot another 200 yards down the road, they wouldn’t care.” kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Chance Hobbs looks at the grassy field at 11735 W. State Street just west of Star’s small downtown corridor and sees an ideal place for an affordable housing complex.

The 2.7-acre parcel features the attributes that Hobbs, a partner in Boise-based VCD, targets for development: affordable land in a community primed for growth, and a parcel allowing for apartments near the downtown corridor with easy access to grocery stores, restaurants and services.

Most importantly, Hobbs said, he looks at Star’s demographics and sees population growth fueling demand for the kind of affordable housing he builds with the help of federal tax credits to offset low rents. He has proposed a seven-building complex with 37 units, Moon Valley Apartments.

The project is similar to another VCD project, Trailwinds Apartments in Garden City, which Hobbs said was embraced by that city’s government. Housing experts say the Treasure Valley faces a shortage of affordable appartments across all communities, including Star.

Star residents see the parcel as something else.

They see the site, which is zoned for commercial use, as the future home of a store, restaurant or other business to fill out Star’s main drag. Six hundred seventy-five residents signed an online petition asking the city council to deny VCD the conditional-use permit it needs to build.

More than 100 people attended a public meeting Thursday as part of the permit-application process. Hobbs and the project architect, Bob Smith of Hutchison-Smith Architects in Boise, presented their plan. The $6.5 million project would include eight one-bedroom units, 20 two-bedroom units and eight three-bed units, as well as a manager’s flat.

The audience was hostile, interrupting speakers to say the complex would burden Star’s crowded elementary school, part of the West Ada School District. Commenters said the apartments would disrupt the city comprehensive plan to develop its commercial core and hurt the neighboring Pinewood Lakes subdivision.

Mike Traficante, who owns and operates Fairways Insurance Agency in Star, said he does not share concerns of some of his Pinewood Lakes neighbors that the complex would drive down property values, become an eyesore or raise privacy issues, with two-story apartments overlooking subdivision yards.

Traficante said he opposes the project because Star is trying to mimic how Middleton developed its commercial core: a business district with no apartments.

“Build this thing behind my house,” he said. “I have no objection. What’s behind my house is a pasture. It’s not the main drag through town.”

The Star City Council will review Hobbs’ application in the next month or two.

Unfortunately, there are comments from some of our older population and anyone generally racist about the situation. You aren’t going to fix the world in one day. We asked individuals with this viewpoint to stay away from City Hall when testimony will be heard. We don’t want to represent ourselves as a city with that viewpoint. If anything, we want to be a city that’s accepting.

Star resident Mike Traficante

Hobbs said the plan takes a long view. He said Star will grow over the next decade, and when it does, not only will the demand increase for affordable housing, but the city will benefit from having some high-density housing whose residents will patronize local businesses and bring tenants closer to jobs.

Such property becomes too expensive after small, growing communities like Star build out their commercial zones, he said.

Hobbs said studies show that affordable-housing projects promote business and job growth around them, refuting opponents’ arguments that Star lacks the jobs, public transportation or other infrastructure to support 36 units.

“No one is seeing that happen anywhere,” Hobbs said. “These studies are from Harvard, from New York University School of Economics, the Urban Land Institute. Major guys are doing this research.”

We should be committed to making decisions in the best interest of Star’s long-term outlook. That’s not an argument for or against the amendment. I’d encourage (council members) if vote to make that change, make it because it’s the right change for the long term, not because you’re going to get a vote for it.

Star Mayor Nathan Mitchell

In response to the proposal, the Star City Council will hold a special public hearing at 6 p.m. Monday — the day before voters go to the polls to choose a mayor and three council members — before voting on an amendment that would prohibit multifamily development in commercial zones.

Opponents have threatened to vote against officials facing re-election unless they support the prohibition. Among the races, Mayor Nathan Mitchell and council member Tom Erlebach seek re-election. Council member Chad Bell is vacating his seat to challenge Mitchell.

As mayor, Mitchell votes only to break a tie on the four-member council. He said he hasn’t taken a position on the amendment.

“The election won’t affect the way I conduct the meeting or the way I will argue in favor or against the proposed amendment,” he said. “I cannot answer for the other people sitting at the table.”

Monday will be the push-and-shove day. Our City Council votes on the amendments of city code. We are all hoping for a successful vote. If that doesn’t happen, I’m sure the citizens of Star will voice their opinion at the polls the next day.

Mike Traficante

Hobbs thinks the amendment would come too late to apply to his development. Mitchell agrees. But both said the timing issue is not settled.

Hobbs said he will speak at the meeting in favor of apartments in commercial zones in Star and elsewhere. Few cities ban multifamily development in downtown areas, he said. Many city leaders wish they had encouraged projects increasing housing density before growth occurs, he said.

“You hope that they listen to the rational arguments that are based on history and experience and studies rather than emotional arguments,” Hobbs said.

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