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Voices: Citizens gather to discuss and learn about proposal for urban renewal on Boise’s Bench

An engaged crowd of several hundred Boiseans gathered at South Jr. High Wednesday night to discuss plans for urban renewal on the Boise Bench.

Rep. John Gannon put together the forum and panel. Representatives for the Capital City Development Corp., City of Boise, Vanishing Boise, Idaho State Tax Commission and several neighborhood associations participated. Representatives for the Ada County Highway District were invited but did not make an appearance. Gannon has at times challenged city leaders and was involved in an effort to put a Boise library and stadium to a public vote.

Editor’s note: I also took part in the beginning of the panel discussion, outlining the history of CCDC and urban renewal in Boise.

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Also present in the crowd were Boise City Council member Elaine Clegg, Boise City Council President and mayoral candidate Lauren McLean, Idaho State Senator and CCDC board member Maryann Jordan, and two candidates for city council – Brady Fuller and Debbie Lombard-Bloom.

Instead of a distillation of the conversation, I wanted to present people in their own words. While this is not every person who spoke or everything they said, it’s a sample of the discussion. This is an experimental format – I’m always open to your feedback at don@boisedev.com. And our coverage is made possible by members of BoiseDev FIRST – you can sign up today.

The process

Doug Woodruff, CCDC: “It’s now a story about how neighborhoods want to shape their neighborhoods, not a story about how the city wants to shape your neighborhood. We are interested in learning more about your neighborhood, pulling out the plans and going through them to decide what to study in an urban renewal district.”

Fluke said the first part of the process is to determine eligibility. That ended in a document presented to the CCDC board this spring finding four subareas are eligible for urban renewal. Next would be the process to determine the exact urban renewal district areas and put together a plan for the 20-year life of the district.

Darren Fluke, City of Boise: “This tool is a way to implement the plans we work so hard on with all of you. We often hear at City of Boise that we only care about downtown. There are many examples that would prove the opposite point – but without arguing the point, I will agree the city has been able to bring more resources to bear downtown, primarily because of urban renewal.

Neighborhood Associations, Vanishing Boise raise concerns

Lori Dicaire, Vanishing Boise : “We should ask who urban renewal really benefits, and does it do what we want it to do? While increased investment can be helpful, the goal of urban renewal is to raise the property values in an area, which is another way of saying gentrification. The key to revitalization without gentrification is bringing the public to the table, often at the beginning. Cities have to diverse inclusive partnerships.”

Dan Loughrey, Hillcrest Neighborhood Association: “We’ve got urban renewal that comes in, and someone wants to build a brand new building – and maybe it’s going to displace that business. What happens to him? What’s the human cost to him on these arterials that someone wants to have urban renewal on”

Lynn Lockhart, Morris Hill Neighborhood Association: “The primary concern I hear from neighbors is ‘how would this impact me?’ I kept hearing that over and over again. I’d not been aware of this until the Idaho Statesman wrote about it. I had not been informed of this urban renewal district proposal. It came as a shock to all of us. I hope that we can prevent that from happening as we move forward.”

Henry Wiebe, Vista Neighborhood Association: ““We all like Boise, and we all want to continue to see it be a great place to live. I think that’s a beautiful thing – and all of us are working to see that that happens. Who in our neighborhood has gone to CCDC and said ‘we want urban renewal?’ So who asked? Where is this energy coming from? City planners. Because that’s who drew the map. Did they come to us to decide where to draw the map? No. When are you going to include us?”

Woodruff, CCDC: “Eight of the neighborhood associations are touched by this. I’d like to work with the neighborhood association leaders.”

Citizens look at district boundaries on boards provided by the City of Boise. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

Neighborhood engagement

Fluke, City of Boise: “We didn’t engage the residents in the process of the study because state code has very strict rules on what can and cannot be included. As we move forward with the development of the urban renewal plan, there will be a lot more opportunities for community engagement.”

Later, during the Q&A segment, this topic came up again.

Fluke, City of Boise: “We are now scoping a public process to see where we are going to go from here. this is going to be a very quick ride. I know a year and a half seems like far off, but these plans are complex and it takes a lot of time to engage with the public. Our target date is the end of calendar year 2020 so that we can start to gain increment in January of 2021.”

Weibe asked what is driving the timeline he termed “arbitrary.” Fluke mentioned a brewing proposal to move the large Boise tank farm to a new location – possibly on land owned by the Boise Airport.

Fluke, City of Boise: “There are things happening on the tank farm properties and it looked like it was moving forward a little more rapidly.”

Weibe, Vista NA: “That steps on your tongue about not scoping until the eligibility study was done. You’ve had no discussions of developers or property owners?”

Fluke, City of Boise: “There’s lots of planning on the tank farm in Blueprint Boise – and that’s the jumping off point (for the eligibility study).”

Weibe, Vista NA: “The statutes prevent you from having these discussions, and yet you’ve been having them?”

Fluke, City of Boise: “The city has a comprehensive plan that took three years to develop. Land use planning happens every day at the City. That’s what we do, that’s what we get paid to do. With urban renewal, there is a very particular process that you have to go through before you can put together a plan. Now we are starting the process of going to the various neighborhood associations to see if these plans that have been done over there years are still valid.”

Use of funds and types of projects

Also during the Q & A segment, one audience member asked about the Latah subarea, which largely had not been mentioned. She noted the area already has bike lanes and a number of new developments.

Fluke, City of Boise: “Latah is a very good commercial corridor – much of that is neighborhood-serving businesses. I happen to know that developers are looking at redeveloping the car wash on Latah. Usually, developers want to do the bare minimum to get their project approved. In that case it would be five-foot attached sidewalks and a bare amount of design. (With urban renewal), you could see detached sidewalks that are much wider, perhaps streets trees, or a plaza that would be for public use.”

Weibe, Vista NA: “Doesn’t the city have access to cash for that now? What about the (under-budgeted) fire stations?”

Fluke, City of Boise: “It’s always a tradeoff between virtuous projects. Facilitating good urban design does not always rank highly. The genius of urban renewal is that taxes generated in the district must be spent in the district. Period.”

One resident noted she read the plan and saw that the Burger Time property on Orchard was listed as meeting the factors required for urban renewal. Since photos were taken, the property has reopened and been updated.

Dicaire, Vanishing Boise: “I think this is a really great example. Boise is growing – explosive growth. Growth is already happening, development is already happening. Properties that have been maybe sitting for years are getting improvements as part of a normal organic process. An urban renewal district is like gentrification on steroids.”

Woodruff, CCDC: “Those are great examples too of where we saw private development, but the sidewalks are still in disrepair. Yes, Boise is growing but the investment isn’t keeping up with it.”

Dicaire, Vanishing Boise: “Should this not have been the city’s duties over these very many years? Many neighborhoods have been neglected by the city and now we have to invite all this development into radically change our neighborhoods.”

An audience member asked about urban renewal and affordable housing.

Woodruff, CCDC: “Urban renewal district can do things to help affordable housing. It can’t do everything for everyone as far as affordable housing goes, we can take this input and shape the plan in a way that reaches these results.”

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