Stadium developers wanted to hit a home run, but struck out with local residents in neighborhood meeting
Pie pulled Geoff Wardle into real estate.
His father, Mike Wardle, was a Boise city planner in the 1970s. When he was still a young child, Geoff Wardle said, his father would ask him if he wanted to go to public hearings on real estate projects. He often took advantage of the offer.
“Because I knew there was probably pie at the truck stop afterwards,” Wardle said.
There was no pie for Wardle on Tuesday. At an outdoor neighborhood meeting on the edge of Downtown Boise, he endured insults, booing and general rudeness from a crowd of about 100 people. Most of them oppose a plan by Wardle’s client, Atlanta-based developer Greenstone Properties, to build a stadium east of Americana Boulevard and north of Shoreline Drive.
“We were discussing here in the office, ‘Was last night the worst neighborhood meeting we’ve ever seen in the history of this firm?’” Wardle told the Idaho Statesman on Wednesday. “And it certainly is in the top three.”
Through the unpleasantness, Wardle remained calm. He said he tries to understand that some people have legitimate concerns about the stadium. But admitted he was frustrated that the meeting was hijacked by “people that showed up there just to protest, not to actually engage.”
“There were some people there who legitimately were neighbors of the project ... who I would’ve liked to have been able to truly understand what their concern was so that I could be able to address it,” he said. “But that setting didn’t allow that.”
Wardle has faced controversy in Boise before.
He represented the developers of Avimor, a large and hotly contested planned community in the Foothills north of Eagle.
He helped shepherd Gardner Co.’s City Center Plaza — a project that transformed the heart of Downtown Boise but contributed to rising skepticism over growth that has gripped the city lately.
And then there was CVS, the drugstore chain that sought to build a pharmacy at the corner of State and 17th streets. That proposal galvanized the neighborhood, which bemoaned the potential loss of beloved buildings and affordable housing. The Planning and Zoning Commission denied the CVS application in December, and the developer withdrew an appeal that Wardle filed.
Wardle, 49, grew up in Boise, Wyoming and Utah. He graduated from high school in Salt Lake City and earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Utah before going to law school at Case Western Reserve University in the Cleveland suburbs.
His father was an Ada County Highway District commissioner in the early 1980s and, later, director of planning for Boise home builder Brighton Corp. So real estate development is in Geoff Wardle’s blood.
“I’ve always been interested in dirt and land and space,” he said.
After a stint in the Ohio Attorney General’s office, he and his wife moved their family to Boise 20 years ago. Since then, he’s built a reputation for being one of Idaho’s top land-use attorneys.
“If I were going into any real estate deal, I would take him in,” said David Wali, a Boise developer and hotelier who worked alongside Wardle for Gardner Co. “But he is exceptional at the hard and complicated.”
When the going gets tough, Wali said, Wardle’s temperament equips him to handle the pressure.
“I know him to be a very calm, thoughtful, articulate individual,” Wali said. “People can be screaming...incoherently absolute rubbish and nonsense about things that don’t even pertain to the issue at hand, and he just deflects it and understands what the mission is.”
Wardle said he tries to remember that, angry as they are, the people who oppose his clients aren’t acting out of malice.
“I spend a lot time just reminding myself that most people’s anger is fueled by fear,” he said. “So if you just recognize that they have fear, and you acknowledge that, to them, their fear is real, then you go, ‘They’re just venting at the moment.’”
And he has his own method for decompressing after run-ins with opponents like those Tuesday night.
“You listen to Rage Against the Machine very loud,” he said with a chuckle. “There have been a whole lot of public hearings I’ve come back from (over) the years where it’s late at night and I’m driving back in from Ketchum or Burley or Nampa or Caldwell, and I call my wife and I just vent.”