West Ada

Star housing project set back as judge rules city council broke the law

Star City Council members Trevor Chadwick, left, and Kevin Nielsen at the council’s monthly meeting Nov. 21.
Star City Council members Trevor Chadwick, left, and Kevin Nielsen at the council’s monthly meeting Nov. 21. Idaho Statesman file

An eight-page ruling that largely dismisses complaints about how Star handled a new housing development still gives neighbors of the project a key victory.

Ada County 4th District Judge Melissa Moody on Wednesday threw out the Star City Council’s approval of a rezone for the Crystal Springs development, and ordered the council to revisit the matter.

The reason: The city failed to record all Crystal Springs-related hearings, and instead relied upon meeting minutes and other documents as proof of its proceedings. Without complete transcripts, as required by law, Moody said, the court could not review the city’s actions to determine if it complied with state law.

“It is one thing to have to put Humpty Dumpty back together again; it is a different thing entirely when Humpty cannot be located,” Moody wrote.

You can read her full ruling at this link.

If built as planned, Crystal Springs will feature seven or eight three- to four-story apartment buildings along the west side of Idaho 16, between Idaho 44 and the Boise River. It also will include a 40,000-square-foot farm-and-ranch supply store, and possibly a coffee shop and gas station, all on 26 acres.

The proposal split the four-member council, and Mayor Chad Bell had to break a tie to approve rezoning the land to allow higher-density housing.

Some neighbors and a former councilman pursued an unsuccessful attempt to recall Bell and Councilman Kevin Nielsen. Others took the city to court, claiming it was sloppy about following state transparency and land-use laws.

Moody ended up unable to examine most of the claims. The city had asked her to dismiss the case because the neighbors did not meet a requirement to first ask the council to reconsider its vote before appealing the rezoning decision. (While they did make that request, it came more than two months before the city formalized the rezone in writing; state code requires a written decision to come out first.)

Moody agreed. That barred her from considering “whether the City’s decision violated Petitioners’ right to due process; was tainted by ex parte contact; was arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion; and was not supported by substantial evidence.”

But the meeting transcripts issue falls in a different area of state law, Moody wrote, allowing her to still examine that concern. She found that while Star officials attempted to comply with the law on recordings, equipment failures still left two key hearings almost or completely without detailed transcripts.

“We are extremely pleased that we will have another opportunity to address the rezone with the City Council,” said Andrea Carroll, the attorney for the neighbors who took the city to court. “... We are optimistic that the city will take the opportunity to correct the other procedural issues raised on remand.”

Star’s attorney, Todd Lakey, said he had not had a chance to discuss options with city officials yet. Those include appealing the ruling or scheduling a new public hearing on the rezone.

“It was nice to see the court found no intentional misconduct on behalf on the city,” Lakey said.

If the city decides to schedule a new hearing, it is unlikely it will have time to publicly notice the meeting, re-hear the application and vote before Jan. 2. That is when a new council member comes on board: Star voters in November turned out Councilman Richard Lockett, one of two who voted against the rezone, and elected Michael Keyes in his place.

Keyes during his campaign said every community needs multi-family housing, and that he supported the way the City Council handled two recent multi-family projects that have come before it — Moon Valley and Crystal Springs.

“As a councilman, I will uphold the law when applications come before me,” Keyes said in the Statesman’s voter guide.

US19 LLC, which owns and is developing the Crystal Springs site, said it has no problem with taking its proposal back before the city.

“We respect the court’s decision and agree that it was difficult to review a decision without a full transcript,” US19 co-owner T.J. Angstman said Thursday.

The project will still involve 240 apartments, but will include some improvements on the original idea, he said. In particular, one of the project’s points of consternation — building the apartments 20 feet taller than code allows — may not be an issue going forward.

“We may reduce the height,” Angstman said, “although we believe the original proposal of 45 feet would make the project more aesthetically pleasing to the community as the height allowed the project to provide substantially more open space than without this variance.”

The project — and growth in Star in general — is likely to remain contentious. Councilman Trevor Chadwick, the other previous “no” vote on Crystal Springs, mulled on that a couple of weeks ago while discussing the election outcome.

“The (election’s) message is clear that people are tired of the divisiveness that a few people are bringing to our community,” he told the Statesman then. “With that said, people are also concerned with the future direction of the city. The key is how do you balance the rights of the land owners, the rights of the homeowners and the rights of all the people that live in our great town? We must do so by following the laws that have been set on making these decisions.”

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell

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