Guest Opinions

Boise Foothills landslide lesson: Slow down hillside development

The Destruction of Terra Nativa

The ground shift in the Boise Foothills continues, damaging homes and opening a chasm alongside Alto Via Court.
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The ground shift in the Boise Foothills continues, damaging homes and opening a chasm alongside Alto Via Court.

At the Boise Planning and Zoning Commission meeting June 6, the city engineering and planning staff’s response to Warm Springs Mesa homeowner concerns about a hillside development proposal reminded me of the careless drivers on Warm Springs Avenue who speed at 30 mph through the flashing yellow lights in the school zone at Adams Elementary School.

I requested that they just slow down their approval process to 20 miles an hour until they determine what yellow flashing lights were missed when they recommended the approval of the grading and plat for the Terra Nativa subdivision on Alto Via Court.

After a May 4 public planning hearing and then two subsequent meetings, Boise planner David Moser and engineers Jason Taylor and Jim Wyllie ignored repeated requests from eight homeowners to reschedule the P&Z meeting so that the mistakes made at Terra Nativa on Alto Via Court were not repeated at Warm Springs Mesa on the Malibu Manor hillside proposal. The geology is nearly identical.

Unlike Terra Nativa, the Warm Springs Mesa houses are immediately adjacent to the bottom of the development hillside. A failure of the hillside unconsolidated landslide rubble would send the Malibu Manor homes and landscaping sliding into backyards. An Idaho Geological Survey staff report 07-1 published in January 2007 mapped the Warm Springs Mesa landslide that this subdivision would be built on: See http://www.idahogeology.org/PDF/Staff_Reports_(S)/2007/StaffReport_07-1.pdf.

If you have driven down Warm Springs Avenue past Warm Springs Mesa after a rainstorm you see standing water, mud, sand, gravel and boulders debris on the roadway that has slid through or jumped the fencing and the Jersey barriers at the toe of this slide. Every house on the Mesa is built on that rubble.

A concerned citizen is given three minutes at a P&Z meeting to state opposition to a developer’s proposal. I requested deferral of their recommendation to the City Council on the Malibu grading permit and plat until the causes of the Terra Nativa earth movement were identified. Yet the commission, chaired by Rich Demarest, simply rubber-stamped the city staff recommendations.

Boise city engineering and planning and the P&Z commission are speeding through flashing yellow caution lights by recommending approval of the Malibu grading permit and plat before understanding the causes of the Terra Nativa earth movement.

Only one commission member even made a statement about the full city staff report before the commission voted for approval. That member had tried to read the geotechnical report but gave up, saying that the language was too technical. The P&Z commission is simply a device for citizens to vent development concerns before moving on to the next development agenda item — a public relations game that approves questionable hillside development.

Robert Collins is a retired smokejumper who has owned a home on Warm Springs Mesa for 17 years.

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