One of the most frustrating things that happens to reporters is that our stories often prod readers to contact us with information that’s new and relevant to the topic.
New, relevant information is good, of course, but it would have been nice to know it beforehand and include it in the story. This happened to me last week after my story on Boise Foothills housing developments ran.
Former City Councilman and district Judge Mike Wetherell stopped by the Statesman office with copies of guest opinions and speeches he made in the mid-1990s, urging the city to adopt a moratorium on applications for Foothills projects for 120 days or until the city adopted a new set of development laws for the Foothills. Without a moratorium, Wetherell predicted developers would rush to file applications for Foothills housing projects before the new laws went into place in order to avoid the restrictions.
Wetherell ran into some controversy with his recommendation, some of which came from the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board.
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That would’ve been nice context for last week’s story.
By the way, if Wetherell sounds familiar to you, there’s a reason. Besides being a judge after he left the city, he was the council member who started asking the questions in 2003 that led to former Mayor Brent Coles’s downfall.
Anyway, the moratorium was never implemented. And, just as Wetherell predicted, developers flooded City Hall with applications for Foothills rezones and subdivisions as the City Council worked toward enacting a law that contained open space and clustering requirements in the Foothills.
As planning director Hal Simmons told me, “Some of (that timing) was coincidence, and some of it was clearly on purpose.”
Here we are, 15 years later, and that same spurt of applications is the source of anger for hundreds of Foothills residents. Buyers are coming out of their Great Recession foxholes, and expensive Foothills homes are in style again.
Developers are responding with plans for hundreds of homes — many of them on land that was rezoned prior to the city’s Foothills law being passed in 2000. The law can’t be retroactively enforced.
Now, city planners find themselves in a difficult position. People who already live in the Foothills want the Foothills laws enforced. They don’t want to hear that the city can’t do that because of a technicality.
To them, it feels like the city and developers are working hand-in-hand at the expense of the public. This leads to a loss of trust in City Hall, and that’s never good for a city. Also, the city forfeited a lot of its influence over these projects by allowing applications before the Foothills law took effect.
It’s fair to argue that this would’ve happened even if the city followed Wetherell’s advice and put a moratorium in effect. That moratorium can only last a matter of months (Some say four, others six.), and in 1995, the city was rewriting its comprehensive plan. It was still five years from passing the Foothills ordinance. Even if the city had focused all its attention on the law, getting it written and passed before the moratorium expired would’ve been a tall order.
The good news for people who want to see Foothills development slowed is that there aren’t too many more plots of land that were zoned for residential projects. Foothills projects will continue, but large-scale subdivisions are likely to become quite scarce, Simmons said.