Soon, members of the Boise City Council must decide whether to deny a request from one of their own, or approve it and face the scorn of people who already think city government is a bunch of back-room dealers.
City Councilman Scot Ludwig, a lawyer and developer by day, filed an appeal Wednesday of the Boise Planning and Zoning Commission’s denial last month of his plan to build two high-rise buildings in Boise’s Central Addition neighborhood.
That puts the matter before the council, minus Ludwig, who said he won’t participate in the discussion or vote on his own project.
Ludwig proposed an 11-story, 130,200-square-foot building on the northeast corner of 5th and Broad streets. The second building, on the southeast corner of the same intersection, would have nine stories and 147,500 square feet.
A skybridge would connect a parking garage on both buildings’ fourth and fifth levels across Broad Street. Planning and Zoning commissioners said the skybridge was out of character with the neighborhood.
Ludwig said he now plans to change the top three floors of the south building from office space to 30 condominiums — a direct response to commissioners’ complaint that the project didn’t have enough residential space. Those condos will sell for between $280,000 and $320,000 each, he said.
The south building would include retail stores and parking on the ground floor, additional parking on floors 2 through 6, and condos on floors 7 through 9.
The north building would have four two-story live-work units on the ground floor, offices on the third level, and 24 condominiums on floors 6 through 11.
In the appeal, Ludwig’s architect said Planning and Zoning commissioners put too much stock in height guidelines laid out in the master plan for the Central Addition, a swath of land on Downtown’s southern edge that lies mostly between Capitol Boulevard to the west, Broadway Avenue to the east, Front Street to the north and Myrtle Street to the south. The plan anticipates buildings of three to six stories in the area around Ludwig’s property.
The plan’s height expectations are meant to be guidelines, not rules, city planner Cody Riddle said.
Critics of Ludwig’s project, including a Facebook group called Vanishing Boise, say it’s inappropriate for him to pitch a major project while sitting on the council. Some critics have accused him of ethics violations, because he’s also a commissioner on Boise’s urban renewal agency, and the property he wants to develop is in an urban renewal zone.
Ludwig and the agency’s executive director have dismissed the ethics accusation. They point out that Ludwig’s project includes no public money, so it doesn’t meet Idaho law’s definition of an urban-renewal project.
Ludwig also said he has not discussed the project “with anybody on the City Council.”
“I trust the council to make an independent, intelligent and transparent analysis of whether this project is good for Boise,” Ludwig said in an email. “Whatever the decision on appeal, I will appreciate as the right decision. In my three years on the council, nobody has ever asked me for a vote or asked how I will vote on any issue.”
Ludwig said critics of his project are a “very vocal minority.” He said many more people want to see it built. Proponents include the president and other members of the Downtown Boise Neighborhood Association, which is separate from the Downtown Boise Association, a business group.
No date has been set for the council’s appeal hearing.