Boise & Garden City

City will pay to tear down two Terra Nativa houses soon. The legal dispute could last years.

At least two homes damaged by a slow-moving landslide in the Boise Foothills are scheduled to be demolished after Aug. 10, and the owners won’t have to pay for it, after all.

The Boise City Council voted Tuesday to cover the cost to demolish the two most severely damaged homes in the Terra Nativa subdivision. Safety concerns and long-term costs appeared to drive the council’s decision.

Like four other houses on Alto Via, those homes, located at 186 and 289 N. Alto Via Court, have long been abandoned. Last year, they started falling apart as the ground they were built on slipped slowly downhill.

The owners of the homes have sued Boise, claiming the city knew or should have known that the land under their homes was unstable and denied permits for building the houses. The trial is scheduled to begin in spring 2018. Other cities in the U.S. have found themselves mired in similar disputes that drag on for six years or more, said Jade Riley, Boise Mayor David Bieter’s chief of staff.

The homeowners are also suing Terra Nativa’s developers and several engineers who analyzed the stability of the ground.

Squatters and curious partiers frequently trespass on the vacant properties, sometimes entering the homes. The Boise Police Department has responded by assigning more officers to the area.

In May, the city issued orders to demolish, at the owners’ expense, the houses at 186 and 289 N. Alto Via. The homeowners successfully appealed that decision Tuesday. The demolition must take place after Aug. 10 to give homeowners a chance to collect evidence from them.

Telling homeowners to foot the demolition bill likely would have led to a court dispute that could take years to settle. During that time, the houses would’ve remained standing. Boise’s police and fire departments would have to dedicate disproportionate resources to the handful of abandoned homes.

More importantly, Riley said, it’s just a matter of time before people get hurt or trapped in the collapsing homes. Rescuing them also would put firefighters or other emergency responders at risk, and the city could face lawsuits from people who are injured, even if they’re trespassing.

The council stressed Tuesday that, although the city is paying for the houses’ demolition, it is not admitting liability for their condition. The council also told staff to look into acquiring money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the long-term stabilization of the ground in the Terra Nativa area.

Riley said the city’s cost for demolishing the two Alto Via homes could count as a local match for a FEMA grant. But the lawsuits likely will have to be settled and the remaining homes on Alto Via removed before serious ground stabilization work can start, Riley said.

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