It’s a big, prime piece of real estate smack dab in the middle of the Treasure Valley’s growth pattern. With demand for housing booming, the property owner wanted to add multi-family and single-family homes.

But the City of Meridian said no – and it could have implications for other developments in the state’s second most-populous city.

Schultz Development had applied to convert the 37.87 acre parcel between Interstate 84 and Waltman Lane (near Meridian Rd.) into a combo of homes and apartments.  The idea was to construct 127 houses to the west and 272 apartment homes to the east. Common amenities like a 1.8-acre park, playground, clubhouse and the like were to be part of the mix.

The city’s planning and zoning folks gave it the green light, as did city staff.

Tanner Creek site plan

City council expresses concern

And then it went up to Meridian City Council in August. Developer Matt Schultz had a rough night.

About ten members of the community spoke on the plan – primarily neighbors who expressed concern about traffic.

After the presentation from city staff and by Schultz, city council members had their chance to weigh in.

“So many apartments,” council member Genesis Milam said with a sigh to open her remarks. “Apartmented (sic) out.”

When the site was annexed into the City of Meridian it was zoned with a development agreement that leaned toward another commercial development: “a potential mix of big-box retail, commercial building, light office buildings and a hotel site.”

Since the concept varied from that, it had to go in front of city councilors to give it a thumbs up or down to change the city’s comprehensive plan.

“We had a pretty unanimous and glowing recommendation for approval from planning and zoning as well as ACHD,” Schultz said. “We worked through the issues with the neighbors and were going to rebuild two bridges out there and fix the access.”

He also noted that this plan would have decreased traffic an estimated 70% over the older idea for commercial development.

Members of the council expressed concern over the project’s density, and whether apartments and residential use are appropriate for the site versus the hoped-for commercial development.

In an interview, city attorney Bill Nary explained the council’s action.

“They felt that it didn’t match the comp plan,” he said. “They’ve been trying to really… slow down on these comp plan amendments. We are doing an overhaul that is taking a number of months.”

Yes to this, no to that

Earlier in the same meeting, the council voted in favor of approving another comprehensive plan amendment to change an 8-acre parcel on Franklin Rd at Linder Rd. from “mixed-use community” to industrial for the Cream Line Industrial Park.

The contradiction between approving one comprehensive plan amendment and then denying another brought out vocal criticism from councilor Luke Cavener.

“I really think that we, as a body, need to make some type of a formal statement to the development community, because if I’m sitting where the applicant’s sitting, my head is spinning with confusion about what the City Council is wanting to do,” he said during the meeting. “I think we owe it to our partners in the development community to provide them at least some direction or some consistency.” 

He said using the ongoing revamp of the comprehensive plan as a reason for denial for one project and not another is problematic in his view.

Nary said the two votes were different.

“Cream Line Park was a change to industrial from commercial – next to industrial that is already existing,” he said. “They felt that that change was more consistent. The change for Tanner Creek was not consistent because it was much higher density uses than is currently being allowed.”

City council gives guidance: hold up, but no formal moratorium

After the differing decisions, council members revisited the issue during its September 4th meeting – providing guidance to planning staff on what to do with developments that requested changes to the comprehensive plan while the review is ongoing.

Staff provided a few potential options – including a hard moratorium, or several softer options including merely urging developers to hold off.

“If it’s the narrow focus of comp plan amendments, I’d strongly encourage them to wait and participate (in the comp plan process),” councilor Joe Borton said.  “This will be done in a year, and comp plan amendments are drastic shifts, and it’s become difficult to understand what today’s Meridian wants in relation to those requests.”

“I don’t know if we should say continue ‘business as usual,’ but the development community needs to know that we may be a little bit pickier,” councilor Anne Littler Roberts said. “I think putting a halt on development with be a huge mistake in my opinion.”

After discussion of the split decisions on Tanner Creek and Cream Line, Cavener asked if there are any other developments seeking comp plan amendments in the pipeline – wanting to ensure no other projects that were submitted before the comp plan overhaul started were caught up in the process. City staff said there are not.

“Be very discriminating and give our staff the leeway of saying ‘unless you can really give e a good reason why this considered, you may want to wait for the comprehensive plan update’,” Mayor Tammy De Weerd said.

The council agreed, but was cautioned against passing any type of ordinance or resolution.

“I wouldn’t recommend doing a resolution,” Nary said during the meeting. “If you want to do a moratorium, that’s fine. I think you would be subject to the challenge that you are trying to subvert the moratorium process by creating something else and I don’t think that you should do that.”

“Highly discourage,” de Weerd emphasized.

Another chance for Tanner Creek?

Schultz says the denial is on him — and he hopes to bring it back before the council.

“It is well planned out and a good transition to single family,” he said. “(Our project) reduced the traffic by 70 percent from the plan ten years ago – it’s huge, it’s a huge reduction.”

Schultz hopes to get another chance.

“We feel like we should get another chance to bring back the information on Waltman Ln. and the traffic issues that seem to be coloring the judgment with a couple of the council members, because I didn’t do a good enough job presenting those facts,” he said.