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Worry about airport noise causes Boise to turn down apartment project

The Bosie City Council liked everything it saw in a new apartment complex project – except the location.

Boise City Council unanimously turned down a proposal for a multifamily project from Meridian-based developer Biltmore Company because it sat too close to the airport. The 84-unit development on Elder St. sits on land between Orchard Street and Vista Avenue next to I-84, in the Airport Influence Area. This means the development would be close enough to the airport for the noise to impact residents, and for the airport to have input on what kinds of development can be nearby.

Council Members agreed with the Planning & Zoning Commission’s denial of the project, citing the project’s proximity to airport noise and the comments from the Boise Airport expressing concern. Airport Director Rebecca Hupp said a multi-family development 260 feet away from the airport could jeopardize annual funding from the Federal Aviation Administration, which restricts the uses of land near the airfield. 

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Council Members were impressed with the development’s use of density, the increasing of height as it moved away from nearby single family homes and the new construction of housing on the already dense Boise Bench, but the airport was a deal breaker.

“If I could pick this development up and move it anywhere else in Boise, I would,” City Council Member TJ Thomson said.

Too loud?

Because the development is located near the airport, it is subject to a 2015 noise study. That study – and another in 2017 – found noise louder than 65 decibels during the day impacts the site. This makes the site incompatible for residential development, according to the federal government.

Aircraft noise in this section of the Boise Bench became a major issue in recent years when former Mayor Dave Bieter lobbied for the U.S. Air Force to locate an F-35 mission in Boise. A study released by the government last fall found hundreds of households would hear noise levels higher than 65 decibels on a regular basis if the jets started flying out of the Boise Airport, including Owyhee Elementary. The military ultimately decided to locate the planes outside of Madison, WI, instead.

Developer says nearby project a success

Kevin Amar, owner of Biltmore, disagreed with the city’s concerns about the project. He argued the company operates another multi-family project only 450 feet away, which has not experienced noise complaints and has high occupancy rates. He also argued the city denying this project is unfair because other projects in the area near the airport have been approved.

“We just saw a project that was unanimously approved by the city of Boise… that experiences higher levels of decibels than this project and staff supported it,” he said. “As I’m looked at the standards I am being held to, they are not standards that are adopted and they are not standards that are uniformly spread across projects in this area.”

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In response, Deputy Director of Current Planning Cody Riddle said the city allowed certain developments closer to the airport, but they can only contain 3 units per acre.

City Council President Pro Tem Holli Woodings pointed out the density caps went into place to prevent the construction of low-income housing in areas impacted by aircraft noise. Lower-income residents often have less choice where they live, and would not be able to afford to move if the noise impacted their health. City Council Member Lisa Sanchez agreed.

“Folks who come from low income communities are often put in situations where their health needs are not taken into consideration,” she said. “I feel like there is no denying every single one of us who serves the city puts a priority on ensuring there is housing for folks and given that it’s still so important to advocate for those among us who are the most vulnerable.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at margaret@boisedev.com or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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