Local

‘Constitutional property rights are on trial’ in big Star project, councilman says

Willowbrook Development’s rough plan is to develop the eastern phase (shown in blue here) of its 1,550-acre project project north of Star first, and then move west. A decision on whether to annex the property has been delayed until May.
Willowbrook Development’s rough plan is to develop the eastern phase (shown in blue here) of its 1,550-acre project project north of Star first, and then move west. A decision on whether to annex the property has been delayed until May.

Star residents will have to wait at least until May to learn the fate of a proposed 1,550-acre development north of the city.

Last week, the City Council delayed a decision on Willowbrook Development’s project after hundreds of people showed up to testify at a public hearing. Many opposed the project, saying they want more details and worry the city is rushing toward approval without enough analysis. The council is scheduled to take up the matter again May 1.

Councilman Kevin Nielsen was the only council member to vote against tabling the decision. At this early stage, Nielsen said, Willowbrook’s plan appears to comply with the city’s comprehensive code, so he didn’t have a good reason to vote against it.

“Essentially, Willowbrook’s constitutional property rights are on trial,” he said.

Most of the concerns the public raised last week will be addressed in future hearings, Nielsen said. Other council members wanted more time to consider the implications of annexing a piece of ground that will increase Star’s land mass by 40 percent. Some extra time to understand those impacts could be helpful, Nielsen said. He said he is satisfied with last week’s outcome and is confident the council will come to the right decision.

Willowbrook’s project is the latest turmoil in Star, the most recently incorporated city in Idaho, where hotly disputed apartment projects led to an unsuccessful attempt last year to recall Nielsen and Mayor Chad Bell.

Willowbrook’s project area is a roughly mile-wide strip of land north of Purple Sage Road, starting about half a mile west of State Highway 16 and extending about four miles west to Kingsbury Road. Willowbrook asked the city to annex the land with a residential zoning classification that allows two homes per acre.

The project’s design and character aren’t determined yet, said Nate Mitchell, a former Star mayor who is working as a consultant for Willowbrook. Willowbrook’s general idea is to plan the project in three phases, with the first and largest phase on the east side of the property near the Hillsdale Estates neighborhood and subsequent phases progressing westward. It’s unlikely homes on half-acre lots would occupy the whole 1,550 acres.

Mitchell said construction probably won’t start for at least two years. The project likely will take decades to build.

“This is only the first step in what could be, literally, a 50-year project,” Nielsen said.

Each phase would have several construction phases, Mitchell said. Mitchell said he expects some commercial development to support the homes. A proposed development agreement would allow gravel pits and mines on the property if the developer secures conditional use permits from the city.

Annexation is the first step toward developing a more concrete and detailed plan, Mitchell said.

“We’re trying to allow for a broad enough scope that we can create some predictability for the people around us and reduce that impact, but at the same time, be flexible enough that we can adapt to the market as it changes over the next 30 to 50 years,” he said.

Willowbrook has already built about 330 homes in the area, Mitchell said, though they are not inside city limits.

At this point, Mitchell doesn’t expect the project to include apartments or other multifamily housing, but he said that could change.

“If somebody had told you that they were going to be building multifamily in Star in 1980, they would have laughed you out of town,” he said. “So in 30 years, I don’t know what’s going to be appropriate at Purple Sage and Kingsbury Road.”

The western part of the property is located in Canyon County. The eastern portion is in Ada County.

  Comments