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A tavern in the back yard? Neighbors quarrel over business, Boise council looks for compromise

A back yard beer garden in Boise’s North End could find a path back to operation, after action by the Boise City Council earlier this week.

After hours of testimony and discussion, the council voted unanimously Tuesday to explore a new process and guidelines for bed and breakfast Franklin House to get a special exception from the city to operate a public gathering space on the property. Prior to the city shutting the business down in July, it offered lodging for travelers and a beer garden open to the public in the back yard. This included some acoustic musical shows and special events. 

[Historic North End church approved for children’s arts center and event venue]

Staff and the owners of Franklin House will now go into mediation to find a solution by the end of January, which will once again come before the council for a vote.

The Backyard is born

Owners Jennifer Bury and Gavin O’Neal opened their bed and breakfast with the beer garden in the summer of 2019. Their vision included a European-style b-and-b where travelers could stay in Boise ,and socialize with people they met in the beer garden. The gathering spot, called The Backyard, also occasionally hosted food trucks. 

It grew in popularity, but not everyone in the neighborhood appreciated the burgeoning business. Franklin House, and The Backyard, became a hot topic in the North End in recent months, sparking a lengthy Planning & Zoning Commission hearing and turmoil in the North End Neighborhood Association.

Neighbors were divided on Franklin House during the hearing. Many expressed frustration with the noise, disapproval with living near a bar and a desire for the neighborhood to remain dedicated to residential uses as possible. Others enjoyed The Backyard, the people they met there and the vibrancy it brought to the block.

Council Members, like Boise planning staff, expressed being conflicted by the application during the lengthy hearing. On one hand, they admired the business owner’s work to create a vibrant business and the fun atmosphere of The Backyard. But, impacts from noise and visitors on surrounding neighbors and the business’s murky classification as a tavern, which is not allowed in a residential zone, troubled the majority of the council members.

The sign outside The Backyard at the Franklin House. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

‘Really tiresome’

City Council Member Patrick Bageant spoke out as the only council member who supported approving the application. He argued parties in his neighbor’s yard, children playing and other neighborhood activities disrupt use of his own back yard – not unlike how The Backyard impacts its neighbors. 

“This is a natural, organic combination of an expression of a business opportunity, Boise values, inclusiveness, and the feel of the North End,” he said. “It is the type of mixed-use that fits.”

Other members of the council did not feel the sam way. Several voiced sympathy for the business and wished there was a way for it to continue within the bounds of the law, but they were unswayed by Bageant’s arguments that it fit within the designation of mixed-use and should be allowed. 

City Council President Elaine Clegg said the disruptions from The Backyard are constant, and thus different than backyard parties or screaming kids.

“As I think about this, I think about how, yes my neighbors have backdoor parties in the summer and I have neighbors who do outdoor movies, but they don’t do it every night,” she said. “It’s once a week or maybe every other week. I can live with that, but if it was every night it would be really tiresome. If they were making money off of it, it would be particularly tiresome.”

A new way forward

After hearing all of the comments from her colleagues wishing there was a legal path forward, Clegg suggested a solution. She proposed discussion of more limitations on the business, like a lower occupancy rate, limiting days of operation or other changes that the city could negotiate with the business owners.

Normally, this process would go into mediation between the Franklin House and the North End Neighborhood Association. But, because NENA did not speak at the meeting, the owners will go into mediation with city staff to come up with a solution. NENA is currently awaiting internal mediation of its own to resolve a bitter debate over the results of an election to its board. The results of the election have not yet been ratified, according to the Idaho Press.

City Council Member Jimmy Hallyburton said he would vote for Clegg’s idea. He said he wanted to ensure the decision addressed the systemic issue, and not a special exception for a favorite business of the elected officials. 

“What I would hope is, in this process we do find a way that we’re finding consistency and a path forward and predictability and we’re not just doing a one off that wouldn’t be consistent to something we would consider or there would be a pathway forward in the future if somebody else was looking to propose something similar,” he said.

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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