The City of Boise wants more say over when buildings outside of historic districts get demolished.
On Tuesday, Boise City Council signaled support for a new process for demolitions of multi-family housing, commercial and office space, industrial buildings or single-family homes built more than 50 years ago. Under the changes, demolitions of any of these properties outside of a historic district will require administrative review by planning staff.
This is a change from the current policy, where demolition permits are issued within hours of application by the building staff and buildings can come down quickly. Deputy Director of Current Planning Cody Riddle said the goal is to give the city and the community a chance to act before a contentious demolition occurs.
“(Tonight’s amendment is not) designed to prohibit demolition, which again outside our historic districts is going to be quite challenging,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t be more thoughtful about it.”
Time for action on controversial projects
Riddle said this policy will allow Housing and Community Development staff to work on solutions if a demolished multi-family property will displace tenants from affordable housing or allow historic preservation activists a chance to go in and document a building before it is removed. These are changes activists have called for in recent years as the city continues to boom.
Under the process, someone will apply for a demolition permit and the city has up to 14 days to evaluate the property. Then, if the permit is issued, a property owner must wait another 10 days for the appeal period for a neighbor or group to appeal it if they want a second look at the city staff’s decision to grant the permit.
However, Riddle said the majority of applications should not take the full 14 days to grant and “9 out of 10” most matters will be fairly routine and not cause conflict. Property owners can also file for a demolition permit up to a year before they would like to take down the structure and extend it for a small administrative fee.
Marcene Taylor, who works in the construction industry, testified against the ordinance. She said it was an infringement of her private property rights and would add costs to builders because of the extra process required for the permit.
She grew emotional describing how she had planned for years to demolish her 1970s era home in West boise and rebuild with a new one to her specifications, but now would need the city’s permission to do so under the new rule if its enacted.
“When you talk about a pause and an administrative delay, on a $250,000 project, that adds $1,500 to the homeowner per month,” she said.
Too much power to residents to object?
Discussion on the topic was divided, but ultimately resulted in a unanimous approval.
City Council Member Patrick Bageant and City Council Member TJ Thomson were initially opposed, arguing this change would allow opponents of projects to intervene in their neighbors projects to a higher degree than they would like and drive up costs. Bageant was ultimately persuaded to vote for the ordinance after Riddle explained that opponents could not file for historic designations of properties they did not want demolished and clarified some of the process.
He decided to vote for the ordinance, but said he would be watching to see what the consequences of it were down the road.
“My concern, which I still have, is that we don’t have a practice of people designating properties historic, but a citizen who objects to, for instance, a proposed development who is motivated could now effectively have that power by opposing the demolition permit and they would oppose it on the grounds of historic significance.”
City Council Member Hallyburton said he was encouraged to vote for the change after reading over the minutes from the city’s Building Code Board.
“One of the notes that was impactful to me was a lot of these contractors, if they know the rules they will know how to schedule and if something needs to be demoed and something needs to have a waiting period they can plan for that,” he said. “If they know that’s part of the process, there’s other tasks they can do.”