Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: With apartment plans, Meridian has arrived as a full-grown city

The signs are unmistakable: Meridian has taken its place as a regional force. It is the fastest-growing city in Idaho, and one of the fastest-growing communities in the Pacific Northwest.

Dairy Days still is part of the summertime fun in Meridian and the seed store is still in the heart of town, but when you look up from those historical cornerstones of the community, everything has changed — for good and for the better.

Blue Cross of Idaho, St. Luke’s, Scentsy, The Village at Meridian and other new centers have transformed onetime cornfields. One of the Treasure Valley founding farm families, the Kleiners, has given us Julius A. Kleiner Park — a big regional destination. Job growth is strong and growing more powerful in Meridian. Many retailers looking for the hottest location have bypassed Boise altogether for Meridian.

In Idaho, only Boise is larger now than this high-end retail magnet at the heart of Idaho’s population center.

And now, finally, the last component of a fully grown urban center is taking its place in Meridian. A team of mostly Idaho investors has been approved to develop one of the Treasure Valley’s largest multifamily residential developments — Liv at 10, a 359-unit apartment home community just north of I-84’s Ten Mile interchange.

One of the things holding Meridian back — one of the few things — has been the shortage of apartment living opportunities for our mobile, contemporary society. Here are a few national statistics that demonstrate that Meridian has been underserved in the multifamily housing category:

• The 2011 American Housing Survey by Housing in America reported that the 32.6 million housing units in multifamily buildings represented 24.6 percent of total U.S. housing stock.

• The U.S. Housing and Urban Development and Census Bureau survey on characteristics of the nation’s multifamily rental properties for 2013 noted that 20 percent of American households were in multifamily rental buildings.

• In Meridian, the percentage of multifamily residents is in the low single digits.

The Urban Land Institute, through its research and educational initiatives in helping drive high-quality growth and community vibrancy, says multifamily housing is crucial to community development objectives. It is every bit as important in economic development as high-rises and shopping centers by providing opportunities for people to live closer to jobs and services.

The new community at Ten Mile and Franklin addresses a critical need identified in a study commissioned by the Meridian City Council. The study assessed fair housing opportunities in the city and recommended best practices for planning future community needs. It indicated that large multifamily housing complexes make up less than two percent of the total housing options in the city of Meridian. This project will help alleviate this shortage.

In 2010, according to the city of Meridian’s study, the gross median rent in Meridian was $965, significantly higher than Boise’s $718. The new community at Ten Mile and Franklin will help to balance housing prices in western Ada County.

To create a project that could be financially viable, Meridian City Council members had to get comfortable with changing their impact-fee ordinance to become more competitive with other Idaho cities such as Twin Falls, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls. They did that with consensus — realizing after careful review that it was the right thing to do to welcome the more mobile community of apartment dwellers to Meridian.

Meridian has selected the geographical center of the Treasure Valley to allow us to create an exceptional place to live for young adults, new or transitioning Idahoans, downsizing empty-nesters and seniors who want to be near their grandkids. The new apartment homes will provide more options to residents of Meridian and many more Idahoans from Canyon County’s more outlying communities.

It makes a better community that these more mobile residents will have a comfortable, central destination in Meridian to call home.

Graye H. Wolfe Sr. is the former CEO of 10 Idaho-based auto dealerships, an Idaho cattle rancher and an investor in Idaho businesses and real estate. He is one of the owners of the Liv at 10 apartment complex, which is under development.