Tommy Ahlquist is headed back to the drawing board again on his proposal to develop a mixed-use building on the eastern edge of downtown Boise.
On Tuesday, Boise City Council heard hours of testimony in opposition to Ball Ventures Ahlquist’s proposal to construct a two tower project with 82 apartments, an Idaho Central Credit Union Branch, a Saltzer Health medical clinic, four to eight condominiums, 460 parking spaces and commercial space. Instead of giving a yes or no decision, council members gave Ahlquist and his partners a laundry list of feedback to rework the project and return for another hearing on March 16.
Neighbors contended the project, with towers reaching 10 and 16 stories, is too large for the neighborhood’s mid-size buildings and would disrupt the views from two neighboring condominium buildings. They said the building’s large, modern design was out of place with the small to midsize historic buildings in the area and would be detrimental to walkability and overall enjoyment of the area.
Boise’s Planning & Zoning Commission unanimously turned down the project in the fall due to concerns about height and other elements.
Ahlquist and his attorney Geoff Wardle disagreed. They defended the project’s size, which they said was appropriate because of its location close to the downtown core, and the inclusion of apartments priced below luxury price points. The project team repeatedly expressed commitment to the site and pointed to several changes they had made at the request of the neighbors, such as flipping the location of the towers to accommodate views of neighbors, adding more housing and moving the parking garage entrance to Idaho Street instead of Bannock.
A lukewarm reception
Council Members reception was mixed. All of them praised the project’s mix of uses and no one wanted to outright deny it, but every member hoped for changes to the project before they saw it again.
Height was a concern for Council Members Jimmy Hallyburton and Holli Woodings. They both hoped for a reduction in the mass of the building and a scale down in height in order to approve it.
“While I like this building and I think there’s really great places for it, preferably on the west end of downtown, this is very much a residential neighborhood so I don’t think it’s appropriate here,” Woodings said. “I think there’s a way through reduced height and reduced massing and increased setbacks, we could get something there that could provide office space, provide residential and a great home for the bank and get all of the partners what they’re needing from this. But, I don’t think this highly urban form is it.”
City Council President Elaine Clegg was not bothered by the height, but she did want the developer to make some changes to lessen its impact on pedestrians. She requested more setbacks from the sidewalk at the ground level and more setbacks at the top of the tallest tower. Clegg also requested the developer allow housing choice vouchers to be used in the building to make it affordable for lower income tenants.
“I don’t have an issue with the height, but I do have an issue of how the heights is experienced especially at street level,” she said.
‘We need the housing’
To cut down on the height, City Council Member TJ Thomson suggested the new design reduce parking or look at having one level of the garage underground instead of reducing the housing units or office space in the project. If possible, he also suggested the developer reduce parking in favor of more apartments.
“We need the housing,” he said. “We need the office space. I’d love to see ICCU have the type of downtown headquarters they desire, but I would also like to see a building that gives comfort to the buildings around it.”
Only City Council Member Patrick Bageant voiced strong support of the project. He acknowledged the large scale of the project, but he said it was a step in the right direction for how to accommodate the continued growth Boise is experiencing.
“We need space for people to do business,” he said. “We need homes. We need to build up, not out and we need to recognize the interests of those people who aren’t here tonight. They’re the interests of the people who will live here in 15 years, 30 years and 40 years and we need to consider them as well and we need to make sure the Boise we’re building fits the needs of those people.”