Rural? Dense? Avimor? Mayoral candidates envision different futures for Eagle

Will Eagle become just like any other city in the Treasure Valley?

That seems to be the primary question for Eagle’s candidates for mayor. As the upscale Boise suburb grows, some of Eagle’s estate-lot loving residents worry that their enclave will be flooded with apartment dwellers and densely packed single-family homes, that its Foothills will be consumed by development and that they’ll lose the city’s rural character.

Eagle’s population is expected to swell to nearly 40,000 by 2040. As it grows, the city will inevitably change. The three candidates running to be Eagle’s next mayor harbor different views on whether the city can remain rural, or how it will adapt as the Treasure Valley becomes increasingly urban.

Mayor Stan Ridgeway champions the current comprehensive plan, which allows low-density development to Eagle’s north toward the Foothills, with higher-density shops and apartments downtown. Challengers Christopher Hadden and Jason Pierce want to keep a strong focus on low-density rural development, with Pierce advocating annexation of land in the Foothills to ensure Eagle grows out rather than crowding in.

Ridgeway, 71, moved to Eagle over a decade ago. He served on Eagle’s City Council from 2014 to 2015, then was elected mayor and took office in January 2016. Before that, he lived in Juneau, Alaska, where he served on the Juneau Board of Education and the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly.

Pierce, 47, came to Eagle in 2003 from Yorba Linda, California with his wife and two children. He has been a member of the city’s Parks and Pathways Committee, Planning and Zoning Commission, urban renewal board, and City Council, as well as the Eagle Kiwanis Club and he Eagle Chamber of Commerce. He is a salesman for Integrated Security Resources.

Hadden, 47, moved to Eagle in 2016 from Phoenix, Arizona. From 2002 to 2007, he worked at Honeywell, and later worked as a business consultant. In 2018, he ran to be a commissioner of the Ada County Highway District but withdrew from the race.

In interviews with the Statesman and at recent candidate panels, Mayor Stan Ridgeway and challengers Jason Pierce and Christopher Hadden outlined their views on five key issues:

1. Eagle’s future: rural or urban?

For years, Eagle residents felt like they lived in the country. Subdivisions were purposefully cut into one-acre lots — or larger — divided by serpentine roads that contrast city grids.

But as the city grows, those subdivisions have begun to push up against one another. Developers have brought subdivisions to the City Council with densities closer to two units per acre, such as a pair of subdivisions totaling more than 1,000 homes proposed this month by Brighton and Toll Bros., which the council denied.

Meanwhile, Eagle is constrained by Meridian to its south, Boise to the east and Star to the west. The city faces a dilemma: Will it grow inward, by encouraging more infill development, or will it sprawl outward with more low-density, car-dependent single-family homes?

Pierce said he would “pull back the density tremendously.”

“The lower density is what makes Eagle Eagle,” he said. “There’s been such a big change the last six years. There’s been so much more density, so many more apartments, so many things that are making Eagle like every other city in the Valley.”

Similarly, Hadden worries that that density is leading to more crowded roadways and schools. Hadden said he wants to set larger minimum lot sizes.

“We’ve seen explosion and growth and apartments, we’ve seen higher density developments being built,” Hadden told the Statesman editorial board. “We’ve even seen the introduction of shared driveways and those developments, and I’m really concerned with regard to the growth that’s in the plan for the Foothills.”

Eagle’s zoning ordinance says developers must preserve 20% of a proposed residential development for open space. By adding more open space, developers can build house more closely together.

Ridgeway said he appreciates the need for clustered developments that guarantee a greater amount of open space. “We have a lot of older people moving into Eagle, and they don’t want the yard work,” he said. “They don’t want five-acre lots. They want these smaller lots.”

He said he would follow the city’s comprehensive plan, which calls for preservin larger lot sizes on the edge of the city near the Foothills and provides for higher densities close to downtown.

0117 eagle heritage park
Civic events often happen at the quaint Heritage Park gazebo in the center of downtown Eagle. It’s one of the elements that helps give the town its village feel. Idaho Statesman file photo

2. Apartments or not?

In February, the Eagle City Council approved Molinari Park, a development with 307 apartments and townhouses near the southeast corner of South 2nd Street and East Plaza Drive downtown.

The project was a powder keg. It ignited a backlash against the mayor and council from a small but vocal group of residents who expressed the same concerns levied against high-density projects: They would flood schools. They would increase traffic. They would bring crime.

While no mayoral candidate is enthusiastic about apartments, Ridgeway says high-density housing is appropriate in certain parts of the city, such as along Idaho 44 and downtown — “exactly where our comprehensive plan says they should be.”

He also said apartments offer cheaper housing options closer to Eagle employers, whether for service workers or millennials employed in Eagle who cannot afford houses there. Ridgeway said downtown residents won’t need to drive as far to get to restaurants, doctors and dentists.

“We need a place for all people to be able to live, not just the wealthy and the people who can afford an estate lot,” he said.

Hadden wants Eagle to encourage more mixed-use apartment buildings, with first-floor retail or office space. Of Molinari, he said: “I want to see a better use for that land instead of just a single use.” (Molinari Park will include 5,000 square feet of retail space as well as an office building to be developed in a later phase.)

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

Hadden also wants Eagle to make its riverfront a destination by building mixed-use projects there. He cites the Boardwalk, a hotel and retail project proposed in Garden City, as an example for Eagle to follow.

Pierce said he would scale back the development of apartments significantly, and ensure they remain “high-end.”

“Eagle has two ways to develop,” he said. “You either develop out and you keep the bigger space and the bigger lots we’ve grown accustomed to in Eagle, or you have to fill high density within your core.” But downtown, he said, is already “at its limits.”

“I would like to see that area be more of a restaurant row, bringing in a bunch of really high end, more local restaurants without any apartments in there at all,” he said.

3. Boost bus service or not?

In part, Eagle has been pushing higher-density development closer to Idaho 44 because city planners have long envisioned a transit corridor there one day. In the meantime, with few alternative transit options available to them, those tenants are left driving like everybody else.

Until a few years ago, ValleyRide ran a commuter bus among Caldwell, Middleton, Star, Eagle and downtown Boise. ValleyRide ended the route when Star and Middleton pulled funding.

This year, Eagle will triple its investment in public transit and pay $130,000 to extend the No. 9 State Street route to the Ballantyne Lane Park and Ride for three round trips during peak hours on weekdays. The new route will debut in January or February, Ridgeway said.

He said public transportation is important for Eagle’s senior citizens.

Hadden wants to study ridership levels along the route before Eagle decides to further expand public transportation.

Pierce said he favors public-private partnerships over public transportation — “whether it’s vouchers for taxis or for Ubers or rideshare,” he said. “Now you’re taking those people from door to door.”

Intuit Eagle building front by Sharon Fisher IBR.jpg
The name on the front of the Eagle building occupied by TSheets changed to Intuit after the Mountain View, California, company bought TSheets in 2017. The division is now known as TSheets by Quickbooks. Sharon Fisher Idaho Business Review

4. Recruit more businesses?

In the last several years, Eagle has welcomed new employers like Lamb Weston and Intuit (formerly TSheets). All the candidates agreed that Eagle should continue to recruit high-tech companies that can bring high-paying jobs.

Ridgeway said he recently hired Eagle’s first economic development director to attract more employers to Eagle.

Pierce urges that more to be done to increase Eagle’s commercial-property base.

“It’s very important that we start flipping our tax base,” he said. “Right now we live off building permits.”

The candidates all agree that they would like to see downtown become a “destination” for its residents.

“We do need to change Eagle to have more of those amenities and for the money to stay in Eagle,” Hadden said.

Spring Valley and Avimor are two planned communities in the Eagle foothills. While all 6,000 acres of Spring Valley have been approved for development, Avimor only has permission to build on 900 of its 23,000 acres. Its managers had hoped to annex into the city of Eagle so it could expand. Kate Talerico / ktalerico@idahostatesman.com

5. Develop the Foothills?

Developers are itching to build homes in Eagle’s Foothills. In 2009, the city annexed nearly 6,000 acres for a development called Spring Valley, which could include between 3,000 and 7,000 homes. No development has begun on the project.

To the northwest of that land lie 23,000 acres in Ada, Gem and Boise counties owned by the McLeod family, a partner on the planned community Avimor, now up to nearly 500 homes. Eagle’s current city council and mayor have resisted Avimor’s request to be annexed, arguing that it would cost the city too much to sprawl further into Ada County, as well as Gem and Boise counties, where it would be required to provide services like fire and water.

“It would be 20 to 30 years before the tax money from Avimor would even pay for the police service and the library service,” Ridgeway said.

He said Avimor lacks enough clean water to support its development, and “there are a lot of issues surrounding” the project’s future.

0614 m3 road
Willow Creek Road winds through the Foothills north of Eagle where developers in 2005 announced plans to build as many as 7,000 homes in the 6,000-acre Spring Valley Ranch planned community. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

At least in Ada County, Avimor doesn’t have a way forward. In 2016, the Ada County commissioners tightened their regulations in the county’s planned community ordinance to make it nearly impossible to build another development like Avimor. Avimor has approached Boise County about expanding there.

Pierce argues that Eagle should control development in the Foothills, and the only way to do that is through annexing Avimor. Campaign finance records show that Pierce received at least $5,000 from Avimor’s partners.

“We can ignore it, and it can be done to other people’s standards,” he said. “Or we can take on hard challenges and make sure it gets done Eagle’s way.”

As part of that, Pierce said he would not allow Avimor or Spring Valley to develop on ridgetops of the Foothills.

Hadden worries about the fire risk of developing in the Foothills. “I’m not in support,” he said.

Related stories from Idaho Statesman

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.