A proposed skyline-altering project got a thumbs down in its first city hall hearing this week.
After hours of testimony, Boise’s Planning & Zoning unanimously decided to turn down a proposal from developer Tommy Ahlquist’s firm Ball Ventures Ahlquist to rezone a set of parcels in order to construct a two-tower, mixed-use development at the corner of 4th and Idaho streets. The project, which reaches a height of 16 stories, would include a new Idaho Central Credit Union branch, a Saltzer Health medical clinic, four to six condos, commercial space and 75 rental units. A 460 stall parking deck would also be built into the project.
The decision can be appealed to Boise City Council.
Saying no to designing from the dais
Commissioners said they appreciated the housing included in the project and the mixed-use, but they raised questions about the height on the edge of downtown, the setbacks and the exclusion of an alley allowing movement east to west through the project. Commissioner Milt Gillispie said the members could have included conditions in their approval, but he was wary of radically redesigning the project right before the vote.
“I think here the issue is I agree with a lot of the testimony that this is a fairly big deal,” Gillispie said. “I’m not going to say this is the biggest deal ever, it’s not, but it’s pretty important. The process is important. I think the way the plans are presented to the public and meetings and the cleanliness and accuracy of the project is important.”
This project was met with significant criticism since BVA announced plans in May. Neighbors expressed concerns about the project’s proximity to historic districts, the large size and height and the flow of traffic through the area once the east-west alley was removed. The East End Neighborhood Association opposed the project, but the Downtown Neighborhood Association spoke in support due to its inclusion of housing and adequate parking.
In response to neighbor concerns, BVA made several changes from the original design. This included flipping the location of the towers to protect some residents’ views and doubling the apartment units to 75. This change also moved the parking garage entrance to Idaho Street, instead of the heavily trafficked bicycle corridor on Bannock.
The right use, but too large for now
City staff were conflicted on the project. On one hand, planners praised the mixed-use, tall project with housing and commercial space, but they said it did not mesh with the neighborhood as it currently exists. Celine Acord, Boise’s current planning manager, said her staff preferred a new project be submitted with a lower height and a design allowing east-west traffic through the block.
The proposal also did not fit in with the River-Myrtle Old Boise Master Plan’s vision for the area, which was written at the end of 2004 by Capital City Development Corporation for the area’s urban renewal district set to sunset in 2024. Gillispie and others said while they acknowledge the plan predates the rapid growth happening in the city, the plan is still part of the comprehensive plan.
Commissioner Ashley Squires said she enjoyed walking through this fringe of downtown and its historic buildings several years ago every day on her way to work. She said BVA’s proposed project would be too large for the area and she preferred a height of approximately 135 feet, comparable to the nearby Imperial Plaza building.
“Downtowns are really special and this area of downtown is really special,” she said. “I loved walking through that area every day. It felt good. It felt special and so when I opened our board packet this weekend and I had a visceral reaction to what I saw and I struggled with it all weekend.”
The project’s height didn’t bother Commissioner Meredith Stead, but she said the street level parking and lack of setbacks hurt walkability in the area. However, she told neighbors who fiercely objected the project would likely return.
“To the neighbors, neighborhoods are changing and that can be really hard, but I don’t think there is a neighborhood that looks the same as it did 20 years ago,” she said. “Change is coming and hopefully we’ll find some kind of common ground on that.”