Boise & Garden City

Garden City repeals zoning originally created to protect Boise River access

Just over a year after Garden City instituted special zoning on properties closest to the Boise River, the City Council voted at its Monday meeting to repeal it.

The zoning, which went into effect in March 2018, was originally instituted to protect public access to the Greenbelt and protect wildlife along the river while still promoting development. Ultimately, the council decided the zoning overlay — a special zone where new provisions apply in addition to base zoning requirements — was too restrictive.

The overlay created strict standards for properties within it, including requiring “native trees, shrubs or other plants adapted for survival and growth in the river environment” to be the predominant landscaping. It also required additional setbacks from “critical habitat areas,” such as those for eagle nests. It required that parcels have a 50 percent tree canopy within 10 years, something developers argued would be hard to do.

The council voted unanimously to repeal the overlay after hearing about 20 minutes of public testimony from people including Hannah Ball, a developer who told the council that the restrictions made some of her land unusable.

“It was a good intent and a bad execution,” Ball testified.

The council debated for about 25 minutes on how or whether to move forward. Council President Pam Beaumont said she was torn between repealing the overlay and starting over and not repealing the overlay but still having to start over, because of its “unintended consequences.”

Council member Jeff Souza likened repealing the overlay to tearing a whole roof off to fix a leak.

“I don’t like the idea we need to blow the whole thing up,” Souza told other council members.

Mayor John Evans, who did not vote on the overlay, pushed back against that idea. Evans argued that a repeal wouldn’t be quite the same as taking the roof off, or having no zoning at all, because the basic zoning would still apply.

Another concern was that creating a new overlay would take months because of meeting schedules, public noticing requirements and other potential roadblocks. Garden City Development Services Director Jenah Thornborrow told the Statesman in an interview last week that amendments to the overlay could take three months to get in place, while an entirely new overlay would likely take at least six.

Ultimately, the motion to repeal went forward. Beaumont requested that the project be fast-tracked to be completed as quickly as possible.

The repeal goes into effect immediately. The next step for the city is to start meetings with what Thornborrow described as a “group of experts” to remedy the problems with the original overlay.

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Hayley covers local government for the Idaho Statesman with a primary focus on Boise. Previously, she worked for the Salisbury Daily Times, the Hartford Courant, the Denver Post and McClatchy’s D.C. bureau. Hayley graduated from Ohio University with degrees in journalism and political science.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.