Boise & Garden City

Boise State expansion could knock out a neighborhood

Boise State communications professor Ed McLuskie joined the faculty in 1981 and bought a house between Boise Avenue and University Drive.

“I wanted to live among students and to be close to the university,” he said.

As a faculty member, he has watched the school’s enrollment grow from 10,000 to 22,000 in the past three decades. As a resident, he has watched the growing campus slowly creep toward his neighborhood.

As Boise State prepares for its next expansion, it has put together a long-term master plan that identifies new buildings, roads and infrastructure that it will need over the next 30 years. The school aims to increase the campus’s 250-acre footprint by 50 acres by expanding south to Boise Avenue, which would overtake McLuskie’s home.

McLuskie, whose neighborhood is targeted for a new road, student housing village and two parking garages, won’t be alone. Over a decade or so Boise State plans to acquire properties in the neighborhood and reconfigure or raze the buildings on them for university use. New roads to accommodate the increase in traffic will come as the university takes on more students and faculty.

“(I’m) looking at the possibility of my colleagues across the way coming to take me away, my property and my favorite place to live,” McLuskie said.

Tim Allen, who has lived on Juanita Street for 23 years, has been keeping tabs on Boise State’s expansion plans, too.

“From what I can tell, where I am living is going to be a big thoroughfare or a parking garage,” Allen said.

“I have mixed feelings. I understand the need for the school to expand. I am an alumni; so are three of my children. One of them played football at Boise State. I am very much for the school and for the growth of the school,” Allen said. But his home has sentimental value.

“Our kids grew up here. This is hard on us,” he said.

“I have already accepted the fact that it is going to happen. I am not going to fight it.” But he does plan to stay “until the last minute” and he would like Boise State to provide him with more information and assurances that when it acquires properties it will be fair and equitable.

A vision for the future

If Boise State grows as it expects, its student population will increase to 30,000-35,000 students in 30 years. The faculty and staff needed to serve those students would bring the campus population to 45,000-50,000 people — more than twice the population of Eagle.

To accommodate this growth, the master plan envisions more than 20 new buildings that will add 2 million square feet of space to support academic departments, research programs and student services. New athletic facilities include a natatorium and a 500-seat fieldhouse for Olympic sports.

Three parking garages and 2,000 new student beds, which will double the number of students currently living on campus, will be added. Older outlying student residences — the Towers Hall dorm and the University Park complex west of Capitol Boulevard — would be closed.

The university spent almost two years putting together its grand vision after meetings with students, faculty, neighbors and the city. The State Board of Education signed off in August. Next, the university must get approval from the Boise City Council.

“This master plan represents our best effort to understand what we think the future looks like. ... What we have in front of you is not an action plan, it’s a conceptual plan,” Boise State Associate Vice President for Campus Planning and Facilities Mike Sumpter told the Planning and Zoning Commission during an initial hearing on Dec. 14.

McLuskie disagrees. “By approving the overall plan as it has been proposed, we are basically saying that this is inevitable. … There is no Grand Canyon between a conceptual document and an action plan,” McLuskie said.

Putting the puzzle together

Piece by piece, the university is cobbling together the 50-acre swath of real estate it needs for all those buildings. When Boise State buys a residential property it must petition to change its zoning to “university” — the city’s designation for property that will be developed under the school’s master plan.

The university has an application before the city to rezone 39 parcels, totaling 11.56 acres, that it already owns. About a dozen of those properties are homes in McLuskie’s and Allen’s Juanita Street neighborhood. Rezoning these parcels, which are isolated and not adjacent to other university-zoned property, is sometimes called “spot zoning.”

“Part of why we went with the spot zoning is that we had acquired quite a bit of property since the last time that we had rezoned. … so for efficiency, maybe just to make sure that we didn’t miss properties, we included all of those properties in our rezone application,” Boise State Capital Planning and Space Management Director Christy Jordan told the planning commission.

“Rezoning is obviously on the minds of owners here. Once they start rezoning, what does happen to our property value?” Allen said. “When they decide to renovate this area or take the homes, I know the school is obligated to pay fair market value. But by then, when they have leveled all the houses around you, what does that look like? Is it now just worth half of what of what it would have been worth had it still been a real neighborhood?”

McLuskie thinks Boise State should be allowed to rezone only contiguous properties.

“I would like to see the city recommend against spot zoning. It is premature. Once this starts happening there are two consequences,” McLuskie said. “The first ... is it is inevitable this is going to grow in this direction. The other consequence is a financial consequence to property owners.”

He explained that in the real estate marketplace, once some parcels are zoned university, the message to potential buyers is “it is only a matter of time before they all are zoned university. That sets the university up and the State Board up or even private investors up to get a much cheaper deal in buying my house or anyone else’s property,” McLuskie said.

The road to an old-school campus

Boise State’s plan calls for a more traditional approach to campus design by creating a vehicle-free campus center, expanding the major pedestrian paths, and moving traffic and major parking structures closer to perimeter entrances.

To accomplish this, one of the master plan’s major components is to convert the central portion of University Drive — a heavily traveled street that bisects campus — into a central pedestrian university mall lined with academic buildings.

University Drive between Lincoln Avenue and Juanita Street would be closed to traffic; the pavement would be removed and replaced with grass, trees and a pedestrian/bicycle path. University Drive traffic would be diverted to a new east-west street south of University Drive, called Center Street.

“A pedestrian-oriented environment is a defining characteristic of the ‘traditional campus’ with the university mall being the central organizing element. The eventual conversion of a portion of University Drive to a pedestrian mall will allow for the construction of new academic, research and administrative services buildings in close proximity to existing academic facilities. The mall will provide an active and dynamic east-west pathway for pedestrians and bicycles and will also support transit,” Jordan said.

With the expansion, Boise Avenue and Beacon Street would be the southern gateways to campus. While Beacon Street already has undergone some of this transformation after widening and other improvements, two-lane Boise Avenue has not.

The Southeast Neighborhood Association said it has concerns about “effectively closing University Drive to traffic” and routing it down a new street, which could increase traffic flow to Boise Avenue.

“Widening Boise Avenue just east of Capitol Boulevard is problematic because of the many residential properties on the south side of Boise Avenue,” neighborhood association board member Fred Fritchman said in comments submitted to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The Planning and Zoning Commission, too, had questions about the proposed road changes.

“This is probably the largest project we will ever see in terms of transportation impact,” commissioner Stephen Miller said during the Dec. 14 public hearing. “There are several major intersections associated with Boise State. If you start putting 10,000 more people through those intersections, something’s got to happen. You’re not going to put 10,000 more people down Boise Avenue the way that it is right now.”

‘I’m not happy’

The master plan calls for a creating a new intersection at Boise Avenue and Capitol Boulevard to take some of the pressure off the University Drive and Capitol intersection, which is at capacity during peak hours.

Any changes to the Capitol/Boise intersection will “require improvements to Boise Avenue in order for it to serve as the new southern boundary to the campus and carry both campus-bound and regional traffic volumes,” transportation engineering firm Kittelson and Associates wrote in a Oct. 28 Boise Avenue Feasibility Overview report to Boise State. “Boise Avenue will undergo a significant change in character and traffic demand and therefore require these changes in the future to support the ultimate vision, design concept and future right-of-way for buildout of the master plan,” according to the report.

Planning and Zoning Commissioner Chris Danley is concerned about the affects those changes could have.

“We know traffic impacts on Beacon, University, Capitol and Broadway but we have nothing on Boise Avenue,” Danley said. “I’m not happy with what I perceive to be a lack of information.”

Planning and Zoning asked to have an Ada County Highway District staff member attend the Jan. 4 hearing to discuss proposed road changes, including those to Boise Avenue. ACHD declined because the traffic plans and analyses were prepared by Boise State and its consultants, not ACHD, so any specific questions need to be directed to the school.

ACHD has jurisdiction over the city’s roads, not land use. Those decisions, like Boise State’s master plan, are up to the city. ACHD will weigh in when an application specific to a road, like a new intersection or closing a portion of a road is submitted, ACHD spokesman Craig Quintana said.

“There have been a lot of questions about when changes and development would happen and what impacts there might be on traffic and local roads. We have provided phasing plans to illustrate how we anticipate the plan would be implemented. But since this is a long-range conceptual plan, we anticipate there will be a need to conduct additional studies as portions of the plan are implemented, especially any changes impacting transportation (traffic, roads, transit) systems,” Boise State’s Jordan said.

Boise State’s Sumpter said that with a conceptual plan, the heavy work is yet to come.

“So much is unknown ... When that time comes that we have the need and the money and all those things that need to line up to address some of these tougher issues — we understand that there’s a heavy process and a lot of diligence to do because what we have in front of you is not an action plan it’s a conceptual plan,” Sumpter said.

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell

What’s next for the Boise State expansion?

▪ Boise Planning and Zoning public hearing, 6 p.m. Monday.

▪ Boise City Council public hearing, 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19.

▪ Both hearings at City Hall, third floor, 150 N. Capitol Blvd.