West Ada

These apartments triggered a drive to recall a small-town mayor. Now they’re back.

Star man wants Mayor Chad Bell to leave office over high-density housing

Star resident Gary Smith sought unsuccessfully to remove Mayor Chad Bell and Councilman Kevin Nielsen in the November 2017 election over apartment projects like Moon Valley and Crystal Springs.
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Star resident Gary Smith sought unsuccessfully to remove Mayor Chad Bell and Councilman Kevin Nielsen in the November 2017 election over apartment projects like Moon Valley and Crystal Springs.

The first time Star held a public hearing over the Crystal Springs Apartments, it led to a shouting match that ended with Star police escorting an impassioned former city councilman out of City Hall.

Now, two years later, there’s little stirring in the city as the development finally moves forward.

Star, whose population has climbed by two-thirds since 2010 to 10,000, is feeling growing pains. The Crystal Spring apartment complex forced both City Council and developers to learn how to make growth palatable to neighbors who have been long-accustomed to Star’s small-town feel.

In April 2017, Mayor Chad Bell cast the tie-breaking vote on the Star City Council to approve the Crystal Springs apartment complex, located at the southwest corner of Highway 44 and the future Highway 16. Within five weeks, neighbors sent the city petitions requesting an appeal. They feared the apartments would bring traffic and crime. When the appeal failed, citizens took their case to court.

It was a lesson for the City Council members: If neighbors don’t like a project, they may pick apart the public proceedings until they find something to sue about.

In the midst of all that, Gary Smith — the former city councilman who had to be escorted out of the public hearing — was starting to cast doubt over whether Bell and a city councilman who had voted for the project were fit to stay in office. He led an effort to recall them, which failed in the November election.

But those opposed to high-density housing in Star won a victory soon after. A judge ruled in December 2017 that the City Council had to hold a new public hearing, since the city failed to record the first one.

In October 2018, the City Council passed the project a second time with a 3-1 vote — this time with the microphones turned on.

But feedback from concerned neighbors had forced the developer, Boise lawyer T.J. Angstman, to change the project.

“Once our plans got out there a little bit, our design showed it was going to be a high-end, dense development by Star standards,” Angstman said in a phone interview.

Boise lawyer TJ Angstman is the lawyer behind the Crystal Springs Apartments in the southeast corner of Star. He first proposed the project to the Star City Council in April 2017. Provided by TJ Angstman

While the city in 2017 issued a variance that would have allowed him to build up to 55 feet high, the apartments will now stand just 35 feet, he said. Rather than 240 apartments, the complex will have 196 divided among five two-story townhouse buildings and four three-story apartment buildings.

“The city had indicated they wanted us to build as high as we could there, since it was next to the highway,” Angstman said. “With the neighbors’ opposition, the city leaders didn’t offer that variance the second time through.”

Angstman said that with Highway 16 expansion continuing, the area around the intersection will become one of the Treasure Valley’s busiest intersections. Highway 16, the main route from Gem County to the Treasure Valley, was extended from Star south to Chinden Boulevard in 2014, and the Idaho Transportation Department plans eventually to extend it south to Interstate 84.

That will make Star the center of the Treasure Valley, Angstman said — and will bring even more development.

Mayor Chad Bell did not immediately respond to an email or a voice message. He has previously told the Statesman that as Star grows, it will need a greater diversity of housing, including apartments.

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Mayor Chad Bell has said that Star needs projects such as the Moon Valley Apartments, shown behind him, because they provide low-income homes, something that’s scarce in the city. His support for such projects is a big reason his opponents pushed for him to be removed from office. Darin Oswald doswald@IdahoStatesman.com

Already, other developers are moving to capitalize on the expected growth. Mark Tate of developer M3 Cos. is planning to propose a 268-house subdivision on a 145-acre lot at 7575 W. Moon Valley Road, about three-quarters of a mile east of the intersection. And a company managed by Brian Black, vice president of Boise’s Ameritel Inns Inc., recently bought a parcel at the northeast corner of Highway 44 and Highway 16.

Angstman is working alongside another developer who owns a neighboring property to build commercial and retail space that will serve the apartment complex.

The Crystal Spring apartments are expected to cost $32 million, said Angstman, who has also worked on multifamily projects in Nampa and Billings, Montana.

The complex will include 20% one-bedroom units, 60% two-bedroom units and 20% three bedroom units, which will rent at market rate for around $700, $1,000 , and $1,300, respectively, Angstman said.

So what happened to neighbors’ opposition?

“Things have calmed down,” Angstman said.

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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.