Boise State University plans to tear down four midcentury houses between University Drive and Boise Avenue and replace them with grass, raising concerns among neighbors about the university’s long-term plans.
The four now-empty homes, each with two or three bedrooms and less than 1,400 square feet of space, were built between 1951 and 1961. Boise State bought them between 2008 and 2012 and used them as rental units for visiting professors, staff members, students and other renters.
The houses are west of the university’s Lincoln Recreation Field and south of the Honors College and Sawtooth Hall student housing. The four homes have deteriorated to the point that it isn’t worth spending money to maintain them any more, BSU spokesman Greg Hahn said.
Ed McLuskie, a retired communications professor, said the university should reconsider. He said the demolitions will erode the neighborhood.
“My view — and it’s the view of residents that I know — is that these houses could still be rehabbed,” said McLuskie, who lives on nearby Verna Lane.
The university did not contemplate selling the homes, either to see if someone else was willing to rehabilitate them or to raze them and build anew, Hahn said. “That wasn’t considered, since that area is in the university’s long-term master plan as a place where growth and expansion may one day occur,” he said
Boise State owns 10 of the 21 homes along Potter, including the one at Potter and Oakland. Ownership gives the university a head start if it decides to expand the campus south.
“The university does need some housing options for new faculty and administrators, as well as visiting professors and others,” Hahn said. “But, in general, the university evaluates opportunities to buy properties that could one day be in areas in or near potential future expansion — even if that decision may not ultimately come for many decades.”
Two houses are next to each other on the north side of West Potter Drive, with a third two doors farther west. The fourth house is across the street at the corner of Potter and South Oakland Avenue.
Since the houses are owned by the university, a public agency, they are tax-exempt. The university bought the houses at 1812 Potter and 1714 Potter in 2012, when their assessed values were $131,700 and $128,4000, respectively, according to the Ada County Assessor’s Office. It bought the house at 1800 Potter in 2008, when it was valued at $169,900. It bought the fourth house, at 1009 Oakland, in 2009, when it was valued at $161,900.
McLuskie said planting grass will lead to “open paths for walking between residences and the university. To me, that’s a problem.”
Tim Gleason, who has lived in the neighborhood for 35 years, said he’s disappointed the university didn’t think the houses were worth saving. He said he’s worried about what might go in the spaces someday.
“The university does not have a clear-cut plan of what they want to do,” said Gleason, a retired Boise schoolteacher.
Any development in the neighborhood would require changes to the university’s master plan, Hahn said, which would require public hearings.
The university had planned to open bids Oct. 5 from companies interested in demolishing the houses, but delayed the opening until Oct. 26 to determine whether the structures have any asbestos or lead that must be addressed, Hahn said.
McLuskie noted that Blueprint Boise, the city’s comprehensive plan, calls for preserving single-family neighborhoods “where possible” south of Boise State and north of Boise Avenue between Capitol Boulevard and Broadway Avenue.
“The plan is intended to provide a design framework for compatible future development that preserves the historic character of this neighborhood and provides for new amenities, such as neighborhood micropark(s) and sidewalks,” Blueprint Boise says. “The plan also aims to beautify the neighborhood with trees, gardens and public art and instill a sense of pride of place.”
Hahn said the university wants to work with the city to identify busier areas where higher density housing could go and areas where single-family housing and duplexes would be more appropriate. That process could create a guide to let developers know where the city would likely approve higher density housing and where it wouldn’t, Hahn said.
Gleason said the university has been a good landlord, better than some absentee owners who also offer rentals in the neighborhood. BSU also has addressed neighbor concerns about noise and late-evening use of the Lincoln Recreation Field, he said.
Still, he said the university could take action to enhance the neighborhood rather than removing the four houses.
“We’re doing the best to keep the neighborhood good for neighbors,” Gleason said. “They could do the same.”