Residents want to protect their backyard from a diesel fueling station
For R+L Carriers, the planned truck terminal south of the Boise Airport is a business opportunity, a chance for the Ohio company to have a new shipping and storage operation in the burgeoning Treasure Valley, complete with maintenance shop and fueling station.
For residents of the Blue Valley mobile home park next door – mostly elderly couples on fixed incomes, children, families with strained resources — the proposed trucking operation is a potential source of unhealthy diesel fumes, 24/7 noise pollution, dangerous traffic and, many fear, a possible push into homelessness.
And for Boise city officials? The complex planned for the city’s southeast edge represents a clash of things they hold dear: business and logical city planning and property rights and affordable housing and public health.
All on 13 weedy acres along Eisenman Road whose future could be decided by the city’s Design Review Committee in just nine days (Wednesday, Aug. 8).
“We’re in a bind,” said Boise Planning Director Hal Simmons. “We recognize mobile homes are affordable housing. … As far as we’re concerned, [the residents] can stay there as long as the park owner keeps it a park.”
But he adds: “We’re also committed to the fact that that whole area has been planned and zoned industrial.”
And there’s the rub. Most residents, who lease the land their mobile homes are parked on, want to stay. But they don’t want a truck terminal with about 100 bays as a neighbor. They fear it will depress the property’s value and force the park owners to sell out from under them. They cannot afford to move their homes and their families. And they feel as if the city has let them down.
‘I can’t afford to move’
“If someone told me that, ‘If you didn’t like the situation you could move,’ I would say that probably would be a fair statement,” said Kevin Dougherty, who moved to Blue Valley four months ago to be closer to his grandchildren. “However, A, I can’t afford to move. If you would be more than happy to pay me $10,000 to help me move my manufactured home to another spot, I’d be more than happy to.”
And then, the retired Teller County, Colorado, sheriff said, there’s “B”: “Quite honestly, I was here before R+L.”
Blue Valley is home to about 200 manufactured houses and has a population of about 550. Built in the early 1970s, it surrounds a central lake, fountain, gazebo and common area.
Its street names are all azure and aspirational: Blue Heaven, Blue Lake, Blue Ridge, Blue Spruce. Aspirational because, although it is bordered on three sides by vacant fields, it is close to the Boise Airport, Interstate 84, the Boise Factory Outlets mall, a WinCo distribution center, a vehicle-auction business and other industrial uses.
Still, to the families that live in the only residential area south of the interstate and adjacent to the airport, Blue Valley is a little slice of affordable paradise.
‘You guys are just a trailer park’
Dougherty and his wife like the birdsong and the sunsets. Lynda and Ron Puccinelli like their lakefront lot, the cattails at water’s edge, the wildlife the area attracts. They like the relative peace and quiet, and they fear even more industrial intrusion.
“Look at that lake, the herons, the geese, the ducks,” said Ron Puccinelli, the retired assistant city manager of Sebastopol in Northern California. “Look at that whole environmental system and think about diesel fumes 24 hours a day. This isn’t NIMBYism. It’s respecting nature. There’s no transitional zoning around 200 units of affordable housing.”
Boise officials, he believes, are “taking a stand. They like this [proposed development]. And they want to respect rights of developers. You know, and ‘you guys are just a trailer park’.”
Boise, Puccinelli said, is “asking its populace to revolt and pass stupid laws to prevent them from doing stupid things. ... Serve the good of all the people, not just two people who want to build a trucking thing. Their rights have to be protected, sure. So do the rights of the people next to it.”
The trucking operation is planned for an awkward, triangular lot whose wide southern end would be Blue Valley Lane, the northern border of the mobile home park. Its fueling station would be built at that wide end, just 140 feet from the nearest homes. The maintenance shop would be close by, just 325 feet from those same residences.
‘Round-the-clock lights, noise, and diesel pollution’
Which is why the Intermountain Fair Housing Council has weighed in. In a letter to the city, Zoe Ann Olson, the group’s executive director, warned that the proposed trucking operation “may pose health and safety risk to residents” at the mobile home park, “and, thus, this project may have fair housing and environmental justice implications under the Fair Housing Act.”
The terminal, she wrote, “may bring round-the-clock lights, noise, and diesel pollution, which we are concerned may harm residents and or force some of Boise’s most vulnerable residents to move.”
Dr. Joel D. Kaufman, a professor at the University of Washington schools of public health and medicine, said such concern is “reasonable.” It is hard to know what impacts there could be, he said, without knowing how many trucks the operation will service, whether they’ll be newer vehicles or older trucks that cause more pollution, and whether the trucks will idle for long periods.
Still, “there is a strong body of literature that diesel fumes are hazardous,” said Kaufman, who specializes in environmental and occupational health.
He said it can worsen asthma in children who already suffer from the ailment. In addition, “traffic-related air pollution contributes to the progression of cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis that causes heart attack and stroke.”
“The concern about noise is a reasonable one as well,” he said. “There is increasing evidence that noise pollution – particularly if it interferes with sleep – can cause elevated blood pressure and other things.”
Residents blame poor notification ...
The area around Blue Valley was annexed by the city in 2008. At the time, it was zoned for industrial use by Ada County, according to city documents. Blue Valley mobile home park was not annexed until 2013. It, too, had been zoned for industrial use by the county; it continues to have a light industrial designation.
Bonnie Hardey is a retired nurse and Blue Valley resident who went door to door collecting signatures in protest of the planned trucking terminal. She has spent the last several months researching the matter and argues that, when the mobile home park was annexed, residents “were not given the right zoning or a neighborhood association” that could protect them and were “stripped of our rights” in the process.
“We’re not light industrial,” she said. “We’re residential. And on the [trucking terminal application], it asked for a neighborhood association. … If we had one, we would have been abreast of what was happening six months ago, not two weeks ahead of time.”
In fact, residents said they did not realize a development was planned for the vacant land next door until Dougherty saw a group of men out digging what he called “test holes” in the middle of the property. That was in early May. His son hit the internet, began digging, and found the plans.
That was when Dougherty realized his would be the closest home, not just to the proposed trucking complex, but also to the fueling station. Not long after, he and his neighbors began organizing. They argue that the city did a poor job of reaching out, informing them of R+L’s plans and telling them about public hearings at which they could testify.
... but city says it posted a sign and sent postcards
Planning director Simmons argues otherwise. The city did what was required: It posted a sign about the initial June 13 hearing and sent postcards to neighbors within a 300-foot radius of the proposed terminal. Some residents said they got postcards; some said they didn’t.
“We notify a 300-foot radius all the time,” he said. “People throw them away. They don’t know they got them. We did all the legal notification.”
Simmons also said the city has pushed R+L to beef up its planned barriers between the truck terminal and the mobile home park. The original proposal called for just chain link fence and barbed wire. Plans filed on Tuesday show an 8-foot-tall “acoustic barrier” of unknown material between the terminal and the mobile home park.
“We’re very sympathetic to their concerns,” Simmons said. “We recognize they’re on limited incomes …. We’ll do our best to mitigate with buffering, sound walls, landscaping.”
R&L isn’t talking. Ralph L. Roberts Sr., owner of R+L Carriers, did not respond to requests for comment. Scott Eccard, the project’s main contact at R+L for city planning officials,
did not reply to email inquiries. The phone number Eccard listed on the city design-review application rings to the back office of an Ohio funeral home.
Mobile-home park owner opposes terminal
Neither is Jerry Jacobson, co-owner of Blue Valley LLC. Jacobson did not reply to requests for comment.
But in a June 4 letter to Simmons, he and partner Dennis Walker laid out all the reasons they and their tenants oppose the plan: Noise, traffic, safety for kids waiting at the school bus stop, lights, diesel fumes and “property valuations.”
“There is little doubt that the development of this trucking facility will depress the value of the homes in our community,” they wrote, “leaving those who can least afford it, an asset that has lost value. They have limited resources to deal with such a solution.”
Walker and Jacobson could have been talking about Charlene Landin, a 71-year-old retired florist and hair stylist, and her husband, Juan, 83, a retired heavy equipment operator. The couple moved to Blue Valley in 2010, after they lost their Kuna home in the housing crisis, walking away from a mortgage that was upside down to the tune of $135,000.
When Charlene Landin’s mother sold her house in Fremont, California, she split the proceeds among her five children. That money allowed the Landins to buy their neat doublewide. They live Social Security check to Social Security check. They are able to dine out at Burger King or McDonald’s on occasion and go to the movies on Dollar Tuesdays.
“This is where all our money sits,” Landin said, sitting in her living room knitting blankets for homeless people with yarn a friend sends from California. “We can’t afford another mortgage. ... If [the owners] decide to sell, we’re homeless. There’s no Plan B for us.”
The neighbors’ fondest dream would be to stop R+L from building the terminal at all. At very least, they want it reconfigured so that the loudest and smelliest parts of the operation are farthest from their houses.
Simmons said such an option is not feasible.
“They have the right to build,” Dougherty acknowledged. “But we also have a right to live. We have the right to live healthy happy lives like we have been.”