Developer and Boise City Councilman Scot Ludwig’s two-tower project in Downtown’s Central Addition neighborhood has been controversial from the start, so it wasn’t a surprise that his fellow council members struggled Tuesday to reach a decision on it.
After an hour of discussion, the council voted 3-2 to approve the project, which Ludwig’s team tweaked in response to the council’s request at a June 5 hearing. Council members Elaine Clegg, T.J. Thomson and Holli Woodings voted in favor of the project. Lisa Sanchez and Council President Lauren McLean voted against it.
As a sitting council member, Ludwig did not take part in the vote or discussion Tuesday. He did not appear to be at City Hall for the meeting.
Ludwig later told the Idaho Statesman that he’ll start building the project as soon as possible, though he isn’t sure when he’ll break ground. He said he shouldn’t have trouble financing it.
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The project would include an 11-story, 130,000-square-foot building between West Broad and Front streets on 5th Street’s east side, across from Concordia University Law School. A nine-story, 147,500-square-foot building would go up on the southeast corner of 5th and Front across from the recently opened Fowler Apartments. The buildings would include office space, 54 condos on the upper floors, as well as four ground-level, two-story live-work units in the north building, and ground-floor retail space along the south side of Broad and east side of 5th.
Ludwig said he’s received dozens of emails from people interested in buying one of the condos.
“The project’s very good for Boise,” Ludwig said. “Living Downtown is environmentally better. When you have common walls, you use less [energy]. You drive fewer automobile miles. You walk.”
A proposed sky bridge joining the buildings was the biggest sticking point Tuesday, as it has been since Ludwig’s team submitted its application late last year. The bridge would connect the fourth and fifth floors of the north building to the fifth and sixth floors of the south building, which has lower ceilings. Those floors contain parking, as do floors 2, 3 and 4 of the south building. The bridge would be 93 feet wide, big enough to hold 94 parking spaces on two levels. The bottom of the bridge would stand 44 feet above Broad Street.
In June, council members asked the designers to narrow the sky bridge or remove it from the plan.
Greg Allen, Ludwig’s architect, said the project wouldn’t work without the sky bridge. The north lot doesn’t have enough space for an entrance to that building’s parking garage, Ludwig said, so the north building would not have parking space without the bridge.
“It was either bridge or no project in the end,” he said.
McLean wasn’t convinced that either the sky bridge or parking space in the north building were necessary, because the rest of the project provides enough space to meet city standards.
Critics of Ludwig’s project say the sky bridge, which would cover some 5,000 square feet of Broad Street, claims air space that belongs to the public solely for the benefit of Ludwig and his tenants. Clegg suggested Ludwig provide affordable housing as a public benefit in exchange for the sacrifice of the air space. Allen replied that prices of condos in the south building would start at $280,000.
“$280,000 is not affordable,” Sanchez said.
Even if the condos aren’t affordable, Woodings pointed out that adding housing inventory tends to slow the increase of prices across the rest of the city.
The new plan reduces the bridge’s width from 102 feet to 93 feet by removing four parking spaces, Ludwig said. Woodings said she would have liked the sky bridge to be even narrower.
Ludwig’s plan calls for parking spaces in the sky bridge to be designed so they can be retrofitted as housing or office space if Boise reduces its dependency on cars. Clegg said that eased her concern that the project’s 314 spaces provide more parking than is needed.
As a condition of approval, the council required Ludwig to make 80 spaces available for the public to rent daily and 232 spaces available in the evenings and on weekends. Some of the spaces would be free for the public up to 10 days per year.