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Deep Dive: State, Trident outline separate plans for future of McCall endowment lands

Idaho's Biggest Toy Drive
Future in Focus: McCall

Next week, the commissioners of the Idaho Land Board will hear two visions for the future of much of the area that surrounds McCall. Though the visions bear some similarities in form — the function of the two concepts diverge in significant ways.

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The process is the result of an effort by Trident Holdings to take significant pieces of property around McCall currently held in public hands – and convert portions to private control.

As BoiseDev reported this summer, Trident, fronted by Alec Williams, hopes to execute a land swap with the State of Idaho to take control of 44 square miles of land held in the Idaho land endowment. Williams says he would work to make much of the land available for public use, while putting together several development clusters.

When the general concept first worked its way into public view in June, the Idaho Land Board put a hold on any actions regarding the swap – and asked staff to put together a strategic plan.

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On Tuesday, the panel, made up of Gov. Brad Little, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Sec. of State Lawrence Denney, Controller Brandon Woolf, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra, will hear the outcome of the staff report. It also will hear a presentation from Trident.

The Trident plan envisions building what it calls a park, and potentially expanding Ponderosa State Park itself. Photo: Autum Robertson/BoiseDev

The lands are currently owned by the State of Idaho – but aren’t typical public lands like you might think of in a state park or national forest. When Idaho formally became a state in 1890, it was granted and endowed with more than 5,600 square miles of land – or about 6.7% of the total land in the state. Those lands are mandated by both the Idaho constitution to produce a return – primarily for schools.

[Deep Dive: What’s the future of the Payette Lake region? Huge land swap proposal spurs action]

BoiseDev obtained both plans. The staff version was provided under state law via a public records request. The Trident plan was provided to us by a firm representing Trident – as well as several independent parties who obtained the plan.

The Trident Plan

Trident’s plan runs more than 112 pages. It largely hews to what Williams told BoiseDev last summer – a proposed mechanism to move much of the land to protected status open to the public, with areas of development sprinkled throughout.

It goes into sometimes painstaking detail – while also leaving many unanswered questions. The so-called “proposal outline” discusses land use, financials, a plan for conservation and looks at how Trident would reach out to the public. It goes into great detail about how it hopes to establish what it calls a “‘park,'” but it provides only general details on how the land dedicated to development would be used.

Cover of the Trident Holdings, LLC proposal

The plan details what Williams outlined in broad strokes last year – that Trident hopes to:

  • Buy timber land in North Idaho.
  • Trade the timber land to the State of Idaho, in exchange for the endowment land around Payette Lake.
  • Put a large portion of the land into conservation easements “under the potential ownership and management of state and local government entities, land trusts, and private entities…”
  • Develop other areas under private control.

The trade mechanism is necessary for the concept, because of constitutional limits on how much land the state can sell, and would circumvent state law on an outright sale – which would require a public auction process.

The “park”

Trident Holdings, LLC map of its proposal for the Payette Lake area.
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Trident hopes to put about 62% of the land into a “park.” Throughout the document, in each and every reference, park appears with quotations around it. The document notes that park does “not reflect a specific type of ownership or management,” but instead refers to a “general sense of contiguous green area for public benefit…”

Trident hopes to take much of the most visible land and put it into the as-yet-undefined park program. It includes the tree-covered hills around the lake, the area surrounding the North Fork of the Payette River, the land around Little Payette Lake and more. It calls for making 4.5 miles of the lakefront of Little Payette Lake public, as well as some lakefront along the main Payette Lake.

Trident says it hopes the land can see expanded recreation opportunities, protection of the ‘viewshed,’ improvement of water quality and management of habitat for wildlife. It outlines proposed new trails, relocation of a road away from the lake, and adding additional camping areas and boat ramps.

In all, Trident says it would turn roughly 27 square miles into the so-called “park” mode.

“Ownership and management of the ‘park’ land would be transferred to a public or nonprofit entity (or several entities) whose primary mission is to operate the ‘park’ land for recreation and conservation,” Trident wrote in the proposal. “The entity (or entities) would operate the ‘park’ independent from the project applicant and provide stable management in perpetuity. (Trident) envisions partnering with local or regionally-based entities and has initiated preliminary discussions to begin to outline that path forward.”

Development

The proposal also outlines in a general way some of the development Trident hopes to carry out if the project comes to fruition.

The document outlines three primary areas of proposed development:

  • An area next to Pilgrim Cove on the southern tip of Payette Lake’s eastern fork.
  • Several parcels in the City of McCall off Deinhard Ln.
  • Lodging or other hospitality facilities throughout the project area.

Workforce housing

Area near Pilgrim Cove. Via Trident Holdings, LLC

McCall, like many resort communities – and communities across Idaho in general – has struggled with affordable housing, an issue the city and Valley County has worked to address in recent years.

[‘That’s not living:’ Housing prices, wages diverge in Sun Valley area]

Trident’s pitch is to use some of the endowment land for workforce housing

For the Pilgrim Cove and Deinhard sites, Trident says it wants to use the sites to “develop housing for locals.” The proposal calls for using the land for “moderate and low-income households to live in the city as part of a comprehensive regional workforce housing strategy.”

It also proposes to build a recreation center for the City of McCall, with possible facilities like a community center building, ball fields and open space.

Development clusters

The light tan colored areas show potential “development” clusters. Via Trident Holdings, LLC

The portion of the plan that has generated the most concern, in our conversations with community members and others – is the development clusters.

The plan documents dedicates one page to this – and less than 100 words:

“Within the clusters of development identified in this proposal, there would likely be one or more hospitality offerings ranging from luxury hotels, spa, glamping and full-service camping to a meeting and conference center, clubhouses, youth camps and retreats. Sites have been preliminarily identified which combine attributes of views, natural beauty and access. These lodging and hospitality offerings would be likely sources of revenue to fund the on-going operations and maintenance of ‘Park’ (sic) as well as potential sources of tax revenue for the City of McCall and Valley County.”

The clusters are not an insignificant portion of the plan, and mostly sit around the main Payette Lake – including some lakefront areas as well as others situated up in the timber-covered hills around the lake.

The plan calls for 9% of land to be used in the development clusters – or about four square miles. The form of the development isn’t outlined in the plan except as noted in the short description.

Alec Williams Trident
Alec Williams. Via Trident Holdings, LLC

Williams told BoiseDev that the lack of detail is intentional.

“What we wanted to do is not to provide a full master plan and then go get people’s yes or no on it,” he said. “The only way you can be collaborative patterns with the city and the county and the local community is to provide them with a working document like this that they can be in the driver’s seat and provide input on what development should look like.”

The plan outlines a number of future public engagement opportunities.

“I don’t want to be the only voice on what development should look like,” Williams said. “We thought of this as a starting point for the county, the city and homeowners and visitors alike.”

Money behind the proposal

Williams has remained steadfast in his stance to not reveal the names of investors at this stage of the plan. A new FAQ on the project’s website says “all of our current investors are located in Idaho and/or have personal ties to Valley County.”

Williams says he went to families with McCall ties for the initial investment. He said over time, they will need to bring in institutional and other large investors.

“We didn’t want to list a bunch of Idaho families. It’s sort of my job to be the public face of this. There is a fair bit of distrust and fear,” he said. “It’s not up to me to broadcast those names to Don Day so people might park in front of their houses to tell them if they’ve made a good decision or not. It’s not up for me to tell them how they should be involved.”

He said the focus on the money behind the project distracts from the plan itself and what he says is the ultimate goal: to protect the land around McCall.

‘Long-term… value’

Trident says the project would roll out over “several decades and development cycles.” The proposal goes into a lengthy financial analysis that it purports provides the best return for the land the State of Idaho can hope for.

“The proposed land exchange provides the endowment an attractive opportunity to smooth annual cash flow distributions for endowment beneficiaries, diversify the investment risk profile, and offer long-term land appreciation value,” the plan says. Through this analysis… (we) display how no other endowment alternative creates as much value on a nominal and risk-adjusted basis to the portfolio’s beneficiaries as the proposed land exchange.”

Williams said he thinks the plan is the best solution – and one the community will embrace over time.

“This is a thoughtful, planned solution to a lot of the community’s needs. It’s not just a way to protect what people like about the area – but a way to enhance a lot of those same things,” Williams said. “McCall is not just for full time residents but for people across the state. We found a way to create an additional 3/4s of a mile of shoreline by moving a road.”

He said the end goal is “what keeps him getting out of bed.”

“At the end of this, we could be cutting a ribbon on the largest state park in state history while also signing a 107 million check for Idaho schools. What a cool legacy.”

The State Plan

The Idaho Department of Land is presenting its strategy at the next meeting on November 17 and will receive feedback from stakeholders and public interest groups. The Idaho Department of Land’s goal is to have the land plan as an action item to vote on in January or February 2021. 

The state’s summary says “there is a continuing need to evaluate and discuss the future of endowment lands within and immediately outside of the City of McCall’s growth and impact areas.”

It notes that some of the timberland assets don’t reach their full potential – and the way the state classifies some of the land doesn’t match up with how the city and county plan for the future.

It also says some of the public don’t understand how the endowment works.

Three phases

The state’s plan would provide three phases. In the first, it would ‘transition’ properties “that are ready” to new uses.  That could include leasing out the land, selling them off, or engaging in some sort of land exchange – though it’s different in scope from what Trident proposes.

It hopes to use dollars generated from those short-term land sales to close a revenue shortfall.  

Like the Trident plan, it identifies an area near Pilgrim Cove on the southern type of Payette Lake’s east fork for development.  The area is about .13 miles in size and could provide housing. It also identifies an area around Deinhard Lane, like the Trident proposal.  This area could also provide housing, commercial or other uses.

The so-called “Parcel G.” Courtesy State of Idaho

In a second phase of the state’s potential plan, the state would look to additional properties for zoning, lease options and future real estate planning. The second phase would roll out from five to ten years from now.  The state identified what it calls “Parcel G” along Payette Lake’s east side.  It could support low or medium density or mixed-use development according to the state.

Over a longer-term horizon, ten years out and behind, the state’s plan says they could “develop policy and planning mechanisms to create more consistency between endowment land clasfification/mamagement and local planning visions.”

That could include working with local officials to “establish coordination and cooperation within” state laws and the constitution.

McCall, Valley Co. meet

The McCall City Council and Valley County commissioners held a joint meeting on Tuesday to discuss one portion of the state’s initial planning for a portion of the area.

The Idaho Department of Land’s supervisory area manager of Payette Lakes office, Scott Corkill emphasized that this plan is different from Trident Holding’s land proposal. 

“None of our presentations will have anything to do with Tridents proposal,” he said. “That is standing on its own and that is a board decision whether they want to entertain that any further. This plan really has nothing to do with Alec Williams’ Trident’s proposal. It’s a standalone plan we’ve been working on for a long time.” 

Three members of the Payette Endowment Lands Alliance attended the meeting and discussed their opposition to the land plans. PELA was created this year to protect and preserve land endowments in the McCall area. 

“The endowment lands contain many huckleberry spots, all those no tellem creek spots for finding mushrooms, the cliffs on East Side drive, the thinking spot, walks up lick Creek Road in the spring when you can’t take the snow anymore and I could go on,” Deb Fereday of PELA said. “Along with many of you and those listening by phone, McCall and the areas surrounding it evoke feelings of a real connection to place a true sense of connection to the land.”

The meeting adjourned with the commissioners and city council members deciding they needed more time so the public and themselves could comment and make a decision.

Public input, where it goes from here

The two proposals will be informational in nature Tuesday, and the Land Board will not take action, according to a spokesperson.

A timeline shows after the informational update, the Land Board will see a draft written plan next month. Full public comment will take place in December and January. A final approval of the state plan could happen in February.

The board will accept public comment – but anyone wishing to have their say must register in advance, by Friday, November 13th at 2pm. Anyone hoping to provide comments in written form can email it to comments@idl.idaho.gov. Folks hoping to testify either in person during the hearing or via remote connection must send an email to rjacobsen@idl.idaho.gov in advance of the deadline.

The state set the meeting for November 17th at 9am in the Lincoln Auditorium at the Statehouse. The meeting will stream live on Idaho PTV In Session.

Don Day & Autum Robertsonhttps://boisedev.com/
Don Day is BoiseDev's founder and editor. Autum Robertson is a BoiseDev reporter.

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