West Ada

Kuna wants to annex 600 acres of public land. Here’s why.

Kuna is making plans to annex 600 acres of federal open space into its city limits — but that doesn’t mean that they’ll be developed.

The land, which lies southwest of the intersection of South Cole Road and West Kuna Mora Road, is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Reclamation.

“It will remain public lands,” said Mike Williamson, spokesman for the regional Bureau of Land Management office. “It doesn’t mean because they’re annexing it that it’s city property.”

Within the Treasure Valley, much of the land south of Kuna Mora Road is public, managed by BLM or the state. Currently, the land is under a permit for grazing. City planners have long considered the land a natural boundary for the region’s growth. Kuna’s move to annex the land into the city shows that those physical boundaries may be more flexible than planners previously supposed.

The annexation will also allow Kuna to grow further east, where the city’s future land use map envisions industrial development.

“There are some landowners interested in investing in Kuna in the long term,” said Lisa Holland, Kuna’s economic development director, in a phone interview. She said Kuna remains committed to a “smart growth” model, which includes preserving open space.

“There are high hopes that we can see some industrial or manufacturing out there,” she added.

The 600 acres are near CS Beef Packers and the Darling Ingredients rendering plant in southeast Kuna. It’s also near a rail line.

The CS Beef Packers plant is the upper blue peg, the Darling Ingredients plant the lower blue peg.

“Nothing is going to change with the BLM land,” Holland said. “It’s just really creating a pathway.”

Annexation of “islands” of BLM land like this one can be complicated, said John Freemuth, a professor at Boise State University who studies public lands. For one, the land will remain federal — meaning that no state or local ordinances will supercede federal control.

Because the 600 acres are isolated from the larger swaths of BLM land further south, the agency could eventually decide to dispose of them somehow, either via a sale of the land to the city or a land swap.

“These are very rare cases,” Freemuth said.

Williamson said that BLM has plans to dispose of the land.

Cities can also apply for permits to develop the BLM land. Williamson said Caldwell this year received a recreational permit to develop 30 acres of BLM land in its area of impact into Mallard Park, which features a playground, picnic shelters and restrooms.

Expansions like Kuna’s are drawing concern about sprawl from Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo.

In an email to the Statesman, Lachiondo said, “We understand and respect Kuna’s desire to boost economic development in their city ... Annexations can have long term ripple effects on schools, EMS (emergency medical services), roads and other services throughout the county.”

In 2017, Kuna greatly expanded its area of impact — the area cities expect to annex and to provide services like police, fire and sewage. The move wasn’t a surprise: The city had repeatedly annexed land beyond of its old, smaller area of impact for years. Kuna officials expects that the population will nearly triple over the next two decades from 24,600 to 50,000.

When seeking approval to expand city limits further east in 2017, Mayor Joe Stear told commissioners, “It lets us keep bringing in manufacturing businesses here but away from residents.”

The Kuna Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing about the annexation on Tuesday, Aug. 27 at Kuna City Hall, 751 W. 4th Street.

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