Boise & Garden City

New Boise law will curb dorm-style duplexes that have crept up in Southeast Boise Neighborhood

Parking perpendicular to the street in front of a handful of “duplexes” south and east of the Boise State University campus has raised concerns about whether these buildings meet the intent of the city’s design standards for duplexes.
Parking perpendicular to the street in front of a handful of “duplexes” south and east of the Boise State University campus has raised concerns about whether these buildings meet the intent of the city’s design standards for duplexes.

The Boise City Council changed its law governing duplexes Tuesday in response to complaints about dormitory-style buildings south and east of the Boise State University campus that met the technical requirements of the city's building standards, but violated the intent of providing homes for two households.

The new standards are a response to complaints from neighborhoods south and east of the Boise State University campus that developers were building duplexes of up to 10 total bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. That’s more characteristic of student dormitories than the homes of up to three bedrooms Boise’s code anticipates.

Over the past two years, the city issued permits for nine such projects.

The new duplex regulations restrict the total floor area of a duplex to no more than 55 percent of the lot size. So, for a lot that's 25 feet wide and 125 feet long, the maximum square footage on all floors would be limited to 1,718 feet. This rule was borrowed from Boise’s skinny house standards, which regulate the size of homes on what city planners call “substandard” lots — typically 25 feet wide, or half the width of a normal single-family lot.

The new standards also require increased backyard open space, but allow a reduction of the minimum setback between a duplex and the street in front of it to make room for a front porch. The goal of the front porch rule is to encourage more usable space and more appealing facades.

Alley-loaded duplexes must provide a minimum of four parking spaces behind the building and may provide a fifth by converting minimum five-foot side setbacks to a parking space as long as fences screen both sides are from neighboring properties.

Neighbors complained the offending duplexes are eyesores and attract far more cars than the number of parking spaces provided, all of which degrades the area. City planners worried about safety problems caused by people parking perpendicular to the street and forcing pedestrians into conflict with car traffic. Some of the rogue duplexes have so little open space that people who live there tend to hang out in or near streets.

In March, the City Council passed a temporary law to freeze duplex permits until planners could propose a permanent adjustment to Boise’s duplex standards. Since then, a committee has considered a variety of options, finally settling on changes that draw on standards for developing narrow lots.

The changes to the duplex law are scheduled to take effect in September.

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