Growth continues to ramp up all across the Treasure Valley. While Boise, Meridian and even Nampa get a lot of attention – the smaller communities in Ada and Canyon County continue to boom, too.
But leaders in the town that straddles the Ada and Canyon county line want to ensure the town isn’t solely focused on homes, with residents driving far away for goods, services and jobs.
“It’s a fast-growing community for sure,” Kuna Economic Development Director Lisa Holland told BoiseDev. “We didn’t have any economic development tools to try and bring in commercial. We were definetely underrepresented in the commercial to residential balance.”
Recently, city leaders decided to take action – and formally launched the city’s first urban renewal area. Idaho’s urban renewal tool, perhaps best known for shiny sidewalks in Downtown Boise, gives Kuna a variety of strategies to help attract and retain commercial businesses in the city.
Talk of urban renewal in Kuna isn’t new – it first popped up around 2001. The city established an agency for the tool in 2011 – but never moved forward with a formal plan.
Now, decades after taking the first tentative steps, Kuna has an established URA.
The Kuna West Urban Renewal District encompasses much of Downtown Kuna, including Indian Creek and the rail line that runs through town. The city council formally adopted the area last fall.
“We have great industrial land and a lot of infill sites. Our downtown has had a lot of development done, but we can see more,” Holland said.
Projects on the planning board
In Idaho, an urban renewal area can operate for a period of 20 years. It gets funding by funneling the taxes collected on any increased value within its border to the urban renewal agency over that time period.
Kuna hopes to use funds for a series of ambitious projects. The city launched an interactive map that shows the new area, along with envisioned projects.
It includes nearly a dozen concepts, ranging from streetscapes to upgraded alleys to even a new town center. Upgraded pathways along Indian Creek could expand the walkway to the east and west, and add new north-south connections.
The plan wlll also focus on streets – and find ways to better connect the town over the railroad tracks. Right now, if a train is rolling through town, Kuna splits in two – with no real way across.
“Everyone wants to see an overpass happen in Kuna – it’s something people have been talking about for years,” Holland said. “It’s a big beast to tackle and it’s really a big project. We can maybe help expedite that process. We have a lot of crossings but it limits what we can do south of the tracks – because they can’t get across the tracks if a train is coming through.”
Close to home
Kuna hopes the urban renewal process will help keep residents closer to home. The city looked at data that said 93% of working residents leave town for a job somewhere else. Each day, 7,173 residents leave Kuna for work, while about 1,671 folks come to town. Just 505 people stay within the friendly confines of the city limits, according to the data.
“Way more of our people are leaving every day than are coming in for work,” Holland said. ” We have over 5,000 students in the Kuna School District – that’s one of our largest employers. But we need more retail to support those students when they come out for lunch, and for parents and teachers.”
Kuna continues to see a sharp increase in permits for new housing, as developers size up land across the area for new homes and apartments to help accommodate the growth the entire Boise Valley is experiencing.
“If we want to attract commercial and have a full-service community, we needed to make some tools available for commercial to come in and have development help pay for itself,” she said.
Doing it right
Urban renewal often catches the attention of state lawmakers, who continue to take action to change and limit how the tool is used. But Holland says she hopes Kuna is the model for using it in a way that doesn’t catch ire from the Statehouse.
“We wanted to be the community that did it right and didn’t want to use it in a way that would get negative attention from the legislature,” she said. “We did a lot of research on what the tool was designed to do and how we could use it in Kuna.”
Holland sees lots of potential. Though nothing will happen right away, she thinks over time there will be a flurry of activity to help strengthen the city, while not losing the area’s heritage.
“Kuna has been working to ID what is our identity,” she said. “Every city has their own unique thing. We want to keep that small town feel but be a self servicing full function community.”
Even though nothing will happen right away, the new establishment of the district changed the conversations Holland and other city leaders were having.
“Already the interest levels have changed,” she said. “I’ve been having conversations since I got here – we’ve had some spec. conversations – we have a big demand. I think you’ll see some growth erupt here – we would love to see more of those small businesses locate here.”