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Deep Dive: Where will Boise grow? Ownership, geography, affordability drive future plans

Over the next few years, the City of Boise says it needs about 1,000 new housing units each year to keep up with the influx brought on by growth.

But the number of places where the city can expand is limited.

One of the biggest chunks of developable land is owned by two familiar names: Simplot and Micron. For now, they aren’t ready to take action.

For the foreseeable future, existing open land and infill development should meet the need.

“We have 20 years worth of land inventory that we can accommodate,” City of Boise Deputy Director of Planning Daren Fluke said. “That’s 1,000 units for 20 years.”

But after that supply of 20,000 homes is exhausted, it’s likely Boise will continue to feel the pressure of expansion. Just like the neighboring cities of Meridian, Kuna, Eagle, and others will see more and more new residents – Boise expects to grow as well.

“The impetus of our Grow Our Housing plan is that we are growing fast,” City of Boise spokesperson Mike Journee said. “We estimate another 50,000 new residents in the next twenty years. And to accommodate that, we need those 20,000 new homes.”

Where to grow?

The Boise area of impact faces limits from two major factors: geography and neighboring cities.

Cities break down into two boundaries – city limits — and the area of impact. The first measure is the actual land area of a city. The second is the area where the county gives approval for the city to grow in the future.

To the north, Boise bumps up against the Boise foothills of course. To the west, Boise bumps up against Eagle and Meridian – with Garden City surrounded by Boise on three sides.

The leaves the south. That area is largely constrained by the Boise Airport and its flight path. Future development of the airport to the South further limits housing growth in this area.

A few projects, like the forthcoming Locale by CBH Homes will add new capacity in the area near Lake Hazel Rd. But development further south is constrained by the City of Kuna’s large area of impact – approved by the Ada County Commission in 2017.

That leaves a few pockets where additional housing stock could go in.

The City of Boise maintains two plans for future growth areas – Ten Mile Creek and Columbia East.

Ten Mile Creek feels limits

The Ten Mile Creek Planning Area sits along Boise’s current southern border.

The Ten Mile Creek planning area currently sits outside Boise’s area of impact. The area lies south of Columbia Rd and just north of the Falcon Crest Golf Course.

Fluke said that area will be hard for the city to service currently due to infrastructure needs. S. Five Mile Rd. currently does not cross the New York Canal, which would require a spendy new bridge, as well as sewer connections and other infrastructure.

The area totals about 1,500 acres – with nearly half of the land controlled by four owners, including Ball Ventures and the Murgotio family.

Blueprint Boise, the city’s comprehensive plan, outlines the Ten Mile Creek planning area.

The city hopes to design an area that supports a “cohesive, transit-supportive neighborhood.” The plan aims for a minimum of eight housing units per acre – with a mix of housing and neighborhood commercial centers.

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East Columbia opportunity

Two major land-owners control the bulk of Boise’s East Columbia planning area near Micron Tech. BoiseDev illustration

The other significant opportunity for expansion of Boise’s city limits is the so-called East Columbia tract.

This area is nearly six square miles, bounded by Highway 21 to the north and Interstate 84 to the west.

“This is our last great opportunity for relatively close-in land that is within our impact area and has services,” Fluke said. “We don’t want to piecemeal it out and see it sprawl.”

That sprawl has already started to some degree. A few subdivisions already popped up in the area along Columbia Rd. Those homes in the Painted Ridge and Sunny Ridge developments are nearly two miles down a two-lane road, largely disconnected from the rest of the Boise area.

Micron, Simplot in control

In between, two landowners control most of the rest of the land.

Records show the JR Simplot Company and Micron Technology control the ground – now largely dusty sagebrush-filled fields.

Fluke said efforts to plan for the area can’t proceed without Micron and Simplot.

“We couldn’t get (them) to buy-in,” he said. “Without their support, it’s pretty much moot, so we pretty much stopped right there.”

A spokesperson for Simplot said the company currently has no plans for the ground beyond its current use.

“We have no immediate plans for the land out there,” JR Simplot Company spokesperson Josh Jordan said. “We have had discussions with the City in the past and are always open to talking with them about their ideas, but we are not actively looking to make changes.”

The housing opportunity is large – more than 20,000 homes could fit into the East Columbia area – it’s nearly the size of the Central Bench, according to Fluke

Blueprint Boise also sets a goal of expanding the city’s area of impact boundary further south “into the area surrounding the Isaac (sic) Canyon interchange.”

Disclosure: My family owns several tracts of land surrounding the Isaac’s Canyon Interchange. I hold no direct interest in the business but members of my immediate family do. The land is currently in unincorporated Ada County and not part of the city’s current planned boundaries.

A plan amidst the sagebrush

The East Columbia area has expansive views of the Boise front. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

The plan notes that the East Columbia area is ripe for “higher residential densities” adjacent to Micron.

“Reserve the area surrounding current Micron facilities for future high-tech industrial expansion,” planners wrote. “Encourage higher residential densities adjacent to the Micron Tech Park and other activity areas.”

Principles include the development of an overall master plan for the area. Blueprint Boise lays out a path that would include so-called New Urbanism design plans. It envisions upgrading South Technology Way and East Columbia Rd. with bike lines, plus a full arterial road network in the area.

The plan holds up the Bown Crossing development in SE Boise as a model for commercial development – touting its walkable mix of shops and restaurants.

It also hopes to see a mix of trail corridors using canal easements, abandoned rail lines and other routes for pedestrian and bike routes. Blueprint Boise also envisions keeping the Oregon Trail route through the area intact and preserved.

Affordable housing & jobs a growing focus

East Columbia sits across Idaho Highway 21 from the Columbia Village development. The Simplot family drove the development of that area in the 1990s. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

With Boise seeing rising housing costs, officials are trying to get ahead of the affordability problem.

“About a third of those thousand units a year need to be affordable,” Fluke said.

“We are trying to incentivize housing units that are affordable to those who make 80% of the median income level or below,” Journee said.

Fluke said the city is working on a number of initiatives, including the recent approval of loosened restrictions on Alternate Dwelling Units – so-called ADUs, which allow a second apartment adjacent to a single-family home.

He also cited Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho data that he said shows the city could see an increasing imbalance of jobs and housing units.

“We are at about 1.5 jobs per household in the City of Boise,” he said. “If these job projections hold – we are going to add more jobs than we add houses.”

Fluke said the key will be to ensure that the housing supply doesn’t hold back employment opportunities.

“We don’t want to limit job growth. We’re going to continue to embrace economic development and job growth. We need jobs close in so that people can live near where they work.”

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