West Ada

Irked developer threatened to ditch big Eagle townhouse project. Then this happened.

Greg McVay and his development team were ready to walk.

The Eagle City Council was in the midst of enumerating a long list of changes it wanted to the 25-acre project that the Boise commercial developer had proposed Tuesday night. Called Molinari Park, the project would add 307 townhouses and apartments with 5,000 square feet of retail space near the southeast corner of South 2nd Street and East Plaza Drive in Eagle’s downtown. Land next to the residential area would be set aside for offices.

The developers’ team started to grow visibly anxious. Mark Butler, a land-use planner for the development team, pulled off his jacket and loosened his tie. As he listened to criticism from the audience, and then to requests from the council, he leaned backward in his seat to consult with McVay.

“We’re done,” McVay whispered.

After an initial denial in November, this was the team’s second time in front of the council with the project. By 9:30 p.m., after nearly three hours of public hearing from residents and city planners, it looked like this meeting was about to go the same way.

The list of requested amendments grew longer. City Council President Miranda Gold wanted more retail space than the 5,000 square feet McVay had proposed. City Councilman Kenny Pittman asked that architects alter the orientation of some apartment buildings.

This time, in a voice loud enough for the council to hear from his seat in the audience, Butler said, “You may as well deny it.”

He stood, walked over to Mike Williams, the city planner assigned to the project, and started outlining his team’s concerns under his breath. Then came a suggestion from the planning staff: Why not take a break so developers and planners could hash out details on a plan that the council might approve?

In an uncommon move, the council did. Twenty minutes was all it took for Eagle planners and developers to make a deal. McVay’s team agreed to several of the council’s requests — like adding commercial space in the form of four live-work units, which combine office and residential space. The council passed the development unanimously.

Revised plans for Molinari Park bring the project further in line with Eagle’s design codes. Above, views of the retail hub that would anchor the development. Provided by Pivot North Design

After the meeting, Butler told the development team that he’d seen mid-hearing negotiations like that perhaps twice in the last 15 years. (Eagle Planning Director Bill Vaughan said that hashing out conditions for council approval midmeeting doesn’t happen often but it isn’t rare for “heavy lift” projects like this one.)

With the amendments agreed to by the council, the project will include the four live-work units among the 212 apartments, 91 townhouses, and a small public park. Tenants for the retail space are not in place, but one could be a fine-dining restaurant, Butler said. The developers aim to secure a corporate office to anchor the commercial site east of the homes, McVay said.

Although over 30 people came to the public hearing, which started about 6:30 p.m., many cleared out before the council and developers reached agreement four hours later. Just nine people spoke, with most arguing against the development. They outlined concerns that the high-density housing, which would add about 800 new residents, could exacerbate traffic and crime.

“It’s OK to be a bedroom community to Boise,” said resident Michael Colby. “If someone wants a downtown core, they can go to Boise. If someone wants to have high-density housing, they can go to Garden City.”

That sentiment was echoed by resident Larissa Anderson, who moved to Eagle from California last year. “We moved here for the exact opposite reason of this kind of development,” she said. “Let’s not repeat what we’re all running from.”

But Eagle’s most recent comprehensive plan, which provides guidelines for future development, encourages mixed-use, high density residential and commercial buildings of up to five stories downtown. The 25-acre site is already zoned “central business district,” which allows for the uses the developer proposed.

Molinari Park would include a residential section with 307 apartments and townhouses, as well as a commercial lot, where a future corporate office could go. Kate Talerico ktalerico@idahostatesman.com

Some downtown business owners endorsed the project, including Linda Western, owner of Second Avenue New Home Decor, 222 E. State St. “Having high density downtown brings more businesses to the existing shops and restaurants in Eagle,” she said.

Others brought up the need for increased retail. One woman asked that the project include a bus shelter, given that Valley Regional Transit recently rerouted buses through Eagle’s downtown near the development. “We want to plan for the future,” she said.

The bus shelter didn’t make it to the list of items the developers agreed to. Rather, they agreed to allow public parking on private streets; construct a new road, Palmetto Drive, which will connect East Plaza Drive to the north of the project with Highway 44 to the south; and build sidewalks a minimum of 10 feet wide within the project.

McVay’s team is also asking for about $3 million from Eagle’s urban renewal district to help build out sewer lines, sidewalks and roads for the project. The agency hasn’t approved any yet.

McVay said that the apartments and townhouses would be priced at “market rate.” Townhouses will sell for between $350,000 and $450,000, and the apartments will rent at around $800 per month for a studio and $1,100 for a one-bedroom, he said. McVay and other investors in the project, including Boise attorney Barry Marcus, McVay’s father-in-law, would maintain ownership of the apartments.

“What it was in November and what it is today is a completely better plan,” Pittman said. “It will revitalize downtown and this area.”

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Mark Butler, a land-use planner for the development team, was misidentified as Greg McVay’s lawyer.

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Kate reports on West Ada and Canyon County for the Idaho Statesman. She previously wrote for the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Providence Business News. She has been published in The Atlantic and BuzzFeed News. Kate graduated from Brown University with a degree in urban studies.