Boise & Garden City

Boise tells owners of sliding Foothills homes to tear them down — at their own expense

Timelapse of Terra Nativa shows worsening slippage

A handful of homes in Terra Nativa continue to sustain damage as the ground beneath them slowly shifts downhill. This slow-motion destruction first came to light in March, when cracking showed up in one of the homes.
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A handful of homes in Terra Nativa continue to sustain damage as the ground beneath them slowly shifts downhill. This slow-motion destruction first came to light in March, when cracking showed up in one of the homes.

The city of Boise has issued orders that would require the owners of two collapsing houses in the Boise Foothills to demolish the structures at their own expense.

The houses are located on Alto Via Court just south of Table Rock Road in the Terra Nativa subdivision. For the past year and several months, a slowly moving landslide beneath them has caused worsening damage. What were once small cracks have turned into huge crevices.

One of the homes the city wants to demolish is the northernmost of a handful of buildings that have sustained damage from the moving ground. It appears to be sitting on top of a fault line between the landslide area and more stable ground next to it. Its walls and concrete surfaces are breaking apart.

The other home is located on the southern end of the row of damaged properties. Its damage appears less extreme than at the house north of it, though still significant.

WHO’S RESPONSIBLE?

All of the people who lived in the Alto Via homes have moved out because the homes weren’t safe.

The families that own the homes slated for demolition will fight the city’s demolition orders in court, said Eric Rossman, who owns an abandoned house on Alto Via, but not the ones in question. The owners of five homes on Alto Via Court have sued the city, saying its experts should have told them the land in the Alto Via area was unstable before the homes were built.

“The city’s the one that created this mess,” Rossman said Tuesday. “They should be the ones tearing them down.”

Rossman also said he’s worried that tearing down the damaged houses will destroy evidence relevant to the court case.

The city is just worried about people falling into the crevices or suffering injury because they’re inside the homes and debris falls on them, city spokesman Mike Journee said.

“Trying to rescue someone from one of those holes would also put first responders in extraordinary danger,” Journee said.

Vandals have periodically targeted the falling homes. On Sunday, police arrested two men for trespassing in the area. The city is considering putting up fences to keep people out of the Alto Via area, Journee said.

It’s unclear how much demolition of the houses would cost.

“Just like any dangerous building, it comes back to the property owner’s responsibility to provide for that safety,” Journee said.

THE LONG, SLOW SLIDE

Evidence of the landslide that chased Rossman and his neighbors out of their homes started appearing in early 2016.

None of these properties was insured against landslides because most homeowner policies have ground-movement exemptions. So the people who lived there were caught owing huge mortgage payments on places that suddenly were uninhabitable.

Those families, including the Rossmans, are plaintiffs in at least two lawsuits. One suit names the project’s developers, the city of Boise, several engineering firms and their employees, the homeowners association and a real estate firm as defendants.

The second suit is against the Ada County Highway District, which controls public roads throughout the county. According to this lawsuit, the highway district failed to require the developers to obtain geological and geotechnical assessments for the roads and associated infrastructure, such as drainage systems.

The lawsuits could take years to settle. Meanwhile, homeowners are trying to renegotiate the mortgages on the ruined homes. Some of the former residents have bought new places, but others are renting, Rossman said.

The disaster in Terra Nativa has given some purchasers pause about buying or building in the Foothills, real estate agents say. It’s also pushed them to encourage buyers to get landslide insurance.

The Terra Nativa experience also has prompted Foothills development foes to seize on the news to reinforce their arguments.

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