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After opposition from former Boise mayor, citizens, Boise planning board recommends denial of library rezoning & parking change

After unanimous public testimony, the Boise Planning and Zoning Commission decided to recommend the denial of the city’s application to rezone the land around the Boise Public Library, and turned down a change to parking requirements. The decision moves next to Boise City Council.

BoiseDev outlined the proposal here. It would have eliminated any requirement for parking on the library campus site.

About ten citizens testified, including former Boise Mayor Brent Coles. All of them said the commission should deny the rezoning. No one testified in favor.

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“This is a rezone without a concrete plan at this point,” Boise citizen Ed McLuskie said. “Words like ‘envision’ are here, but not concretely. The plans have yet to be produced and are not before the commission. I think we should wait until we have a concrete plan going along with this rezone.”

“We oppose all of these rezones,” Katie Fite with Wildlands Defense said. “The gargantuan library… appears to be the driving force behind this rezone. Any plan is premature. We still don’t know the plan for the library.”

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Several citizens raised questions about the city’s claim that the site is well-served by transit.

“I’d like to know how people are expected to travel up to half a mile in wheelchairs, or who might otherwise be disabled or elderly,” McClusky said. “Any plan for a public library should have access as a fundamental right.”

The city has not yet presented a formal plan for the library site, but renderings show an area that could be used for people with mobility issues to access the library. However, the P1 parking overlay requested does not explicitly require handicapped parking.

Former mayor opposed to rezoning, supports library

Brent Coles Boise
Former Mayor Brent Coles testifies Monday evening. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

“Our community is well known for our open space and what we fought for,” former mayor Coles said. “I’m in opposition to any rezone that would affect the Log Cabin Literary Center and the Greenbelt.”

Coles harkened back to the urban renewal efforts in the 1970s and 1980s that tore down a number of historic Boise buildings in favor of a planned urban mall that never materialized.

“It brings back memories of the 1970s when we were tearing down downtown,” he said.

Several citizens were upset about a 45-year lease the city issued to Biomark in 2011. The city protected the parcel Biomark sits on and did not allow it to be included in the library campus planning. He said the Boise City Council specifically bought the parcel for library expansion, which he said he supports.

“I was stunned to hear a lease was given,” Coles said. “Back in 2002, we acquired that land for expansion of a library.”

Coles resigned from office amidst a wide-ranging scandal around misuse of public funds and other issues. He later served jail time in connection with charges brought in the wake of the scandal.

Planning & zoning denies application

The City of Boise made the application, and its own planning and zoning commission turned it down.

“It’s longstanding practice of this commission to not do major rezones unless we have a development agreement or some idea of what we are zoning to,” commissioner Milt Gillespie said. “I don’t have any dog in the library fight – this is a process question about timing and steps.”

“I don’t think it would matter the project, I’d be uncomfortable without a project plan in front of us,” commissioner Meredith Stead said.

“My biggest concern is about rezoning the Greenbelt area,” commissioner Jim Bratnober said. “I don’t see why it’s included int he rezoning proposal at all. That’s why I will be supporting the motion.”

Planning and zoning voted unanimously to deny the rezoning and parking changes.

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