A diesel trucking terminal may be built next to a mobile home park after the Boise City Council moved it one step closer to final approval.
The council upheld the developer’s appeal of a Planning and Zoning Commission recommendation to reject the terminal. But it sent the project back to the city’s Design Review Committee to reconsider its effects on residents of Blue Valley, the 200-home park with more than 500 residents on Eisenman Road, near Interstate 84 across from Micron Technology.
The move upset residents who attended the heated Tuesday night council meeting. More than a dozen of them spoke against the project.
“These people have put their lives on hold for nine months,” a woman screamed at the council as the body tried to adjourn the nearly five-hour meeting. “Why can’t you have the political courage to do the right thing?”
The terminal, a project of Ohio-based R+L Carriers, would include nearly 100 bays for tractor-trailer trucks to dock as well as a maintenance shed and a fueling station for the tractors.
Neighbors were concerned that the shed and fueling station would be on the edge of the property that backs up to Blue Valley. Semitrailer trucks would enter at the far end of the property away from the neighborhood and drive toward the community. Because the parcel has a triangular shape, the southern end of the property — adjacent to the community — is wider and would better allow for the large trucks to turn around.
That’s a problem for the people who live as close as 50 feet from the property line. While there would be barriers to reduce the encroachment of sound and light, residents worry about potential noise levels and effects on the air and water quality, among other things.
Zoning allows the terminal
It was those problems the council hoped to address by sending the plan back to Design Review, although it wasn’t clear what might change.
“I don’t know that there is a design that would make that work,” council member Lisa Sánchez said in the discussion immediately before the vote.
The reason the terminal could exist next to the neighborhood is that Blue Valley isn’t zoned to be a residential neighborhood. The community falls in the Boise Airport’s influence area, which is land designated to be used primarily for transportation or industry, according to Blueprint Boise, the city’s comprehensive plan.
The zoning explicitly allows for a trucking terminal, as Jason Mau, a lawyer representing R+L, pointed out to the council.
“To our client, it’s the most logical spot for a trucking terminal in Boise right now,” Mau said.
A few other residential communities also exist in the airport’s influence area, but they have been able to change their zoning to reflect their residential status. Such a change has not occurred for Blue Valley.
Volunteer lawyers observe the hearing
“The City Council must recognize the people of this community not as M-1s, not as ‘allowed uses,’ but as people,” Bonnie Hardey, president of the South Eisenman Neighborhood Association, said during the public hearing.
Blue Valley asked that legal observers from the National Lawyer’s Guild be present during the meeting. Two observers sat through the meeting to “observe any interactions between city officials, employees and law enforcement with Blue Valley residents and others opposing the developer’s appeal,” Ritchie Eppink, a volunteer member of the guild and a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, said when reached for comment. The observer’s presence is intended to enable people to express dissent without “unconstitutional disruption or interference,” Eppink said.
The tenant association had problems with not being heard in other settings, Hardey said. Monday’s fight between the company and the neighborhood was not the first the group had attended, although many hoped it would be the last.
The issue first surfaced in May 2018 when R+L Carriers and BRS Architects, the firm helping with the design, submitted a design review application. The Design Review Committee approved the project in August, and two days later, the Blue Valley Tenant Association appealed the decision to the Planning and Zoning commission.
The commission upheld that appeal and denied in the project in October and adopted a reasoned statement in November. R+L appealed that decision two days later. The City Council in December directed the two groups to try mediation.
Mediation took place in late January but ultimately did not result in an agreement between the two groups. By the time the issue came back before the council Monday, it had been a fight nine months in the making.
Next: a lawsuit?
Jason Mau, the lawyer representing R+L, declined to comment after the council made its decision as he said he wasn’t fully sure what the referral to the Design Review Committee meant for the project. Hardey, however, was livid, saying the council should have denied the application and made the group resubmit it.
She said if it came down to it, her group would have to move forward with a discrimination lawsuit. Many people who live in Blue Valley are disabled, members of racial minorities or parts of families with children, which are considered protected classes in federal laws about fair housing.
It would not be the first lawsuit The Blue Valley Tenant Association was a part of. The Idaho Freedom Foundation announced Tuesday that the tenant association was joining the group’s lawsuit against the city of Boise.
That lawsuit centers around urban renewal district spending. The foundation alleges that the way the city is using urban renewal funds violates the Idaho Constitution.
Hardey called the lawsuit “needed.” She said the city wouldn’t reclassify Blue Valley as a residential zone because it wanted to use the area for urban renewal.