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‘We need housing’: McLean breaks tie, approves redesigned 13-story downtown tower

The eastern edge of Boise’s skyline will get a new addition.

On Tuesday, Boise City Council narrowly approved a proposal from developer Tommy Ahlquist, Brighton Corporation, and Idaho Central Credit union to build a mixed-use tower at the corner of 4th St. and Idaho St. City council tied after hours of overwhelmingly negative testimony from nearby residents, leaving Mayor Lauren McLean to break the tie in favor of the project.

Shorter design with more apartments

The project traveled a bumpy road to approval. Boise Planning & Zoning unanimously denied it in 2020 after an initial redesign prompted by neighbor complaints. It got a mixed reception from Boise City Council in January. Instead of denying it, the council asked for a redesign of the project, and the developers to return for another hearing before they made a final decision.

[19-story condo tower planned for Downtown Boise]

Ahlquist’s firm, Ball Ventures Ahlquist, made several major changes to the project since then. It dropped the height on the tallest of the two towers from 16 stories down to 13 and increased the height of the lowest tower one story to 11. It reconfigured the traffic flow through the project by maintaining the east-west traffic flow and the entrance to the drive-thru for the Idaho Central Credit Union building will be from Bannock Street.

Document provided to the city by BVA showing recent changes to the project.

The project will include 100 apartments instead of 82, five floors of parking with 420 spaces and 6,000 square feet for retail or a restaurant on the first floor instead of an urgent care clinic. To drop the height, BVA eliminated medical office space and the top floor of residential condominiums from the tallest tower. Designers also altered the proposal to ensure more trees stayed put, and put in slightly larger setbacks to make way for public patio space.

Despite the changes, neighbors in the neighboring twelve-story condo development Imperial Plaza fiercely objected to the “big glass box” design and height of the project. They said the project dwarfed the rest of the neighborhood and its approval endangered the rest of the park-like neighborhood because it would open the door for other developers to demolish existing buildings in exchange for towers like this one.

Not ‘incredibly clear cut’

City Council members appeared to struggle with the proposal.

On one hand, it’s located blocks away from some of Idaho’s tallest buildings and Boise’s comprehensive plan marks it as mixed-use. But, it’s also near a historic neighborhood with single-family homes and other lower-height buildings, and residents from nearby buildings heavily opposed it. The neighbors pointed out an older comprehensive plan for the area that said a building of the proposed height is not appropriate.

City Council Member Patrick Bageant said he was ultimately swayed by the project being only a block away from a zone where unlimited height would be allowed and the way the project aligned with the city’s current comprehensive plan, known as Blueprint Boise. But, he acknowledged there were arguments on both sides and the two plans were contradictory.

“I don’t think this is incredibly clear cut and incredibly easy,” he said. “I think everybody here, whether they vote for it or against it, is going to have to exercise a lot of judgement and a lot of discretion and they’ll have to interpret these guiding policy documents heavily because they just don’t point to what the answer is.”

City Council Member TJ Thomson and City Council President Elaine Clegg joined Bageant in support. Before she voted for it, Clegg required BVA to note exactly which trees they planned to save and increase the number of housing units set aside for Housing Choice Voucher holders from five to 10.

A divided council

On the other side, City Council President Pro Tem Lisa Sanchez and City Council Members Holli Woodings and Jimmy Hallyburton were not convinced by arguments it would fit with the neighborhood. Hallyburton said he thought approving it would be inconsistent to residents and business owners in the area.

“One of our goals with Blueprint Boise is to give people a predictable development pattern and I don’t know if approving this project without a plan explicitly saying this is the appropriate plan is giving people a predictable development pattern,” he said.

But, the final decision came down to McLean. She understood both sides of the arguments, but the project’s additional housing convinced her to approve it.

“We need housing,” she said. “Anything we can do to ensure that we have housing, both in downtown and throughout our neighborhoods in a built environment and style that is reflective of our past and our future is important.”

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Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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