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After hours of testimony, large student apartment complex near Boise State denied

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A large project aimed at housing students near Boise State was the subject of hours of testimony at Boise City Hall Monday night and into Tuesday morning.

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Ultimately, the Boise Planning & Zoning Commission voted to deny Collegiate Development Group’s proposal to build a 537-bed apartment complex at Boise Ave. and Protest Hill.

The vote came with the thinnest number of commissioners voting after 1:30 a.m. and a late recusal from a P&Z member.

We attended this late-night hearing to bring you the complete story. Sign up now to get our daily scoop sheet in your inbox, and help support independent journalism in Boise.

Developer: Boise needs more supply

Just before proceedings began, the developer decided to pull back on a fourth story of the project, bringing it under Boise’s height requirements. The change eliminated the need for a conditional use permit for the apartment complex, but they still hoped to rezone the property.

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“I think we need additional supply. We are looking at adding over 500 new beds to this market. We are not adding 500 new residents. We are pulling 500 students out of those neighborhood housing units which can possibly free those units up for more affordable housing options,” Mitchell Korte with Collegiate Development Group told the panel.

Residents worry about affordable housing loss

Much of the testimony centered around an existing affordable housing apartment complex known as the Ridenbaugh Apartments. Residents, neighbors, state legislators and homelessness experts all expressed concern about the fate of the people living in the site.

One resident told a story about his wife, who recently died of lung cancer in their apartment on the site.

“Our living room is where she took her final breath four years ago,” resident Mike Wallace testified. “It’s where I desire to take my final breath. It’s not a place where we sleep and party for nine months and then go back to mommy and daddy int he summer. It’s our homes. It’s our community.  I am and have been a Boisean for every day of my 69 years. I’ve contributed. Now they want to throw me out on to the street.  These are our homes. This is our community. And they want to take it away from us.”

Korte echoed the sentiment during his earlier testimony and said he hoped his company could help.

We understand there are tenants in these apartments,” he said. “This is their home. It is never easy to move your home from one place to another. We are here to help them through it.”

CDG proposed to help with relocation expenses – including returning security deposits, covering moving expenses and paying the first month’s rent for a new unit elsewhere.

Sara Heggland, who lives in a home above the project, blasted CDG’s plan.

“I find it hard to believe we would destroy a community of our own residents for a community of transient students,” Heggland said. “We do not want to become a Portland or a San Francisco where the core of our city is for the wealthy and the homeless, and this project puts us down that path.”

Parking, traffic

Many residents also complained about parking. The CDG project calls for 267 parking spaces, primarily in an underground garage. Before the hearing, city staff stressed that this met guidelines outlined in city code, but many residents expressed concern of an under parked development with vehicles spilling out into neighborhoods.

But of most apparent concern to planning & zoning commissioners was the interaction between the city and the Ada County Highway District on the project. The highway district posed questions about the impact to surrounding traffic and infrastructure to the city, but did not make a formal recommendation.

In his move to deny the project, P&Z commissioner Milt Gilespie cited the incomplete traffic picture.

“Without a completed ACHD analysis and an agreed-upon way of thinking about the traffic, I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the public welfare,” to approve the project he said. “I think having something more from ACHD is needed.”

Very late in the evening, commissioner Jennifer Stevens recused herself from the vote and further discussion due to what she termed an “economic interest” in the project that she just learned about. Stevens remained present to preserve a quorum of the commission. The body is down a member, and another member was absent.

That left just three voting commissioners. In the end, with Gilespie’s motion and Meredith Stead’s second – the project was denied on a 2-1 vote. Commissioner Janelle Finfrock preferred to see the project deferred instead of denied and was the lone vote against Gilespie’s motion.

The applicant can ask within ten days to appeal the decision.

A representative for the Vernon Brassey family, which owns the Ridenbaugh Apartments property, said even if this project does not come to fruition, they intend to move forward with selling the property.

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