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Boise Avenue student housing project approved on second try

A year and a half after a developer first submitted the application, a multi-story, upscale student housing project near Boise State University got a green light.

Boise City Council unanimously approved a 547 bedroom, mixed-use project set for the corner of Boise Avenue and Protest Road just south of Boise State’s campus. This comes after St. Louis-based developer Collegiate Development Group made changes to the proposal after it was denied by council members in September.

The project will include 175 units on three floors, 274 underground parking spaces and 550 parking spots for bicycles, most of which will be covered and secure. It will also have a 2,375 square foot retail space on the corner, a public plaza outside and a range of amenities for residents, like a pool, fitness center and social lounges.

[‘Reallocation:’ Boise State asks for input on future of University Drive]

A winding road

Since the proposal made an appearance in Boise in October 2019, the project riled neighbors for a range of reasons. The project will displace the aging 25-unit affordable Ridenbaugh Apartments and neighbors in the single-family neighborhood on the rim objected to its height, additional traffic and the focus of the project on housing suitable for students instead of the rest of the city.

The proposal divided city council members last fall, leaving Mayor Lauren McLean to cast the deciding vote to deny the project. McLean and the others voted it down not because of the displacement of residents or impacts on neighbors, but because they felt it legally did not have enough mixes of uses to classify it as a neighborhood activity center.

On Tuesday, every member of council agreed CDG’s changes to the project made it suitable for the area. The additions include a drop in height down to three stories, instead of ranging from three to four, the addition of retail space, improvements to the pedestrian crossing at Joyce Street, additional tree mitigation and roughly 300 more bike parking spaces.

One crucial change is the addition of walk-up units with smaller bedroom counts on the ground floor, which CDG CEO Brandt Stiles said will make the corner a livelier pedestrian environment and it will cater to a different type of renter than the rest of the building. Stiles said anyone can live in the building and the studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units will appeal to regular Boiseans, Boise State professors and graduate students.

“If this was just a student project, we would just focus on four and five bedroom units to provide the most return on our investment,” Stiles told council.

Moving help for displaced tenants

CDG also provided a relocation package to tenants displaced from the project. The developer will give residents a minimum of six months advance notice before they need to move, property management support to find a new home, funds to assist tenants to cover higher rents in their new apartments and moving as well as the option to return to live in the project at a reduced rate for three years.

The company also agreed to pay additional funds to residents who have to move more than five miles or take longer than six months to find a new rental.

The project will include 10 apartment units rented at rates set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for tenants making less than 60% of the area median income for three years. These units will be first reserved for displaced tenants, but will be open to anyone if there is more availability.

The changes didn’t impress the neighborhood, however.

Erik Berg, president of the Southeast Boise Neighborhood Association, said the project did not change substantially enough from the first application to the second. He also objected to the higher number of four and five bedroom units set up for students in this proposal than the first one and the small percentage of the property devoted to retail overall.

“SENA supports mixed-use developments and supports a healthy mix of uses, especially activity centers,” Berg said. “But this project just doesn’t meet that.”

Difficult vote, despite approval

Council Members voted to approve the project, but not everyone was thrilled with it.

City Council President Pro Tem Lisa Sanchez called her vote for the project “painful” because it meant displacing the apartment complex’s residents and the mature trees on the property. But, she said it met the requirements and she would vote for it.

“It is painful that we have to say goodbye to some of the features that are so meaningful to our city and to our neighbors, but it is especially painful to see 25 affordable units lost and I don’t want to support this, but I’m going to,” she said.

City Council Member Jimmy Hallyburton hoped for more retail space added to the project, but after seeing he didn’t have support from the rest of council he didn’t ask for an amendment. He hopes the corner can grow as a stronger commercial center in the future and support the developer retrofitting amenity space in the building to another storefront.

“I think there is a vision and a dream of what that place could look like and serve in a way that (neighbors) didn’t have to drive to the places they wanted to go and they could feel a sense of place on that corner,” he said. “I would have loved to see 3,500 square feet there to make room for some of the neighbors’ vision.”

CDG’s changes were enough to win over City Council Member TJ Thomson, who was “extremely impressed” with the alterations, the location and what it would bring to the corner.

“It will serve as a real asset,” he said. “In the long run, we’ll look back on this as a good decision if it’s approved tonight.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev senior 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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