An underdeveloped corner of downtown Boise home to multiple social service nonprofits is under study by the city’s urban renewal agency.
Earlier this year, Capital City Development Corporation began a four-month look at a multi-block area in and around 17th Street in the Shoreline Urban renewal district to plan for public improvements. This comes after landowners and developers working in the district met with the city and CCDC for months about concerns with lacking streetscape design, poor lighting, and growing frustrations with impacts from people experiencing homelessness living out of cars and RVs on the blocks nearby.
The study, which is being completed by Boise-based architectural firm Cushing Terrell, is looking at a triangle-shaped section of the district bound by the I-84 Connector, Americana Boulevard, and the Greenbelt. It includes emergency shelter Interfaith Sanctuary, day shelter Corpus Christi House, as well as several properties Derick O’Neill’s River Shore Development is considering for construction.
This section of the Shoreline district used to be part of the 30th Street urban renewal district and saw few improvements over the years it was eligible, according to 17th Street property owner Tom Rebholtz.
“The original/initial Shoreline URD projects were slated for areas that produce little-to-no incremental tax revenue (zero tax basis), near BSU and the proposed library remodel,” Rebholtz wrote in an email to BoiseDev. “The areas in greatest need of basic improvements are by 17th. They also hold more potential for incremental CCDC revenue because they contain more taxable parcels.”
A year of complaints
Since early 2020, CCDC and various city officials received dozens of emails from O’Neill, Rebholtz, and Office Environment Company owner Jason Galloway about the several block stretch, according to a cache of over 500 emails obtained by BoiseDev through a public records request. RiverShore is owned by the Rebholtz family, which also controls AgriBeef.
The group had several meetings with city officials to request changes, shared dozens of photos they took of RVs parked along the street and litter, made multiple reports of their employees feeling unsafe in the area and emailed BPD officials about activity they believed to be drug transactions near their properties.
The area is a frequent stop for Boiseans experiencing homelessness who live in their cars and RVs to park. Under the city’s code, they can park for 72 hours at a time before moving to another space. It is heavily patrolled by BPD’s bicycle unit and they frequently ask occupants of vehicles breaking the code to move or face a ticket, but the code allows the vehicles to move around the area.
One email from Rebholtz to three city officials in November with the subject line “Good morning” included a photo of human waste and a bicycle with a pile of personal belongings parked on private property near his Windermere Real Estate office on 17th Street.
Studies = infrastructure planning
CCDC spokesperson Jordyn Neerdaels said studies of this kind are typically used by the urban renewal agency to see how infrastructure can be improved to encourage development and work with property owners and users in an area of the city. She said this study came out of conversations with a range of property owners and tenants, not just requests from particular developers with singular interests in mind.
“There are groups of property owners and development teams and those within this area that are looking towards the future and looking at what potential projects they want to bring online,” she said. “…But, (the study) wasn’t from one individual ask. It was a series of conversations between all different groups and CCDC looking at the lack of streetscape standards in that area and how we would look at public improvements.”
O’Neill is the former Planning and Development Services Director at the City of Boise. He resigned his post in 2018 to work on the River Shore Development project, where he became one of the strongest supporters for the Shoreline Urban Renewal District when it was reviewed by Boise City Council.
After a June meeting between Reboltz, O’Neill, Galloway, Boise Economic Development Director Sean Keithly and BPD Captain Paul Burch, the department began work on a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) study along 17th Street. It was completed at the end of 2020 and included recommendations for a parking study to focus on issues stemming from people living in their cars in the area, lighting and other improvements.
O’Neill and Rebholtz regularly checked in with BPD about the progress of the study throughout 2020. When it was completed, O’Neill reviewed a draft form and provided detailed feedback. It is unknown how much of that feedback was incorporated into the final draft made available to city council.
In August, O’Neill also emailed CCDC and city officials hoping for taxpayer funds to be allowed for a 17th Street study. The agency later added this to its capital improvement plan for the district and this second study is currently underway.
Mayor Lauren McLean, who serves as a Commissioner with CCDC, walked the area with O’Neil in December to discuss his concerns, according to emails in the public records request. She also responded to an email from Galloway expressing frustration for how the city handled his complaints in February and suggested a walk through the neighborhood to discuss the issue further.
When asked about her vision for the area, McLean’s spokesman Seth Ogilvie said the mayor does not have any specific plans or an agenda for the 17th Street area.
“The mayor wants this area to thrive just like all the other downtown areas and neighborhoods throughout Boise,” he wrote in an email.
What about Interfaith Sanctuary?
This several blocks stretch has been of high interest to more than just property owners in recent months.
Earlier this year, Interfaith Sanctuary announced a proposal to relocate its shelter to a larger location on State Street. The nonprofit sold its current building on River Street to Mark Miller and his father Robert Miller. The elder Miller is a former CEO of Albertsons Companies.
Interfaith Sanctuary Executive Director Jodi Peterson-Stigers said the ongoing study of the 17th Street area and River Shore Development’s work is not related to her shelter trying to relocate to State Street and there is no partnership between her organization and RiverShore.
Peterson-Stigers said her shelter has been hoping to expand for several years, but the need due to the pandemic accelerated their timeline. She said the Millers have property adjacent to Interfaith Sanctuary and she expects they wanted to purchase it for development, but she doesn’t know any details.
“They do have investment in that area already so there is a logic to why they’d want that building,” she said. “We didn’t talk about what they were going to do (with it). They came to us when they heard the building would be for sale and they offered to buy it and lease it back, which was the best thing for us so we had time to do the remodel. My thought was ‘Hallelujah, someone bought it.’”
Interfaith Sanctuary was invited to participate in the ongoing 17th Street study and Neerdaels said CCDC would be interested in helping them with any needs they have if they stay in the area. But, Peterson-Stigers said she has not been joining the Zoom calls about it because they plan to move.
O’Neill said his group is ambivalent to Interfaith Sanctuary moving or staying in the area and their work on major development in the area has been going on long before the shelter aimed to relocate.
“Interfaith has been there longer than we’ve been working on this and we’ve made big improvements to what we have now,” O’Neill said. “We want what’s best for Interfaith, but them being there doesn’t affect our investment and what our future plans are.”
Emails obtained by BoiseDev through a public record request show Peterson-Stigers was still exploring purchasing the nearby Red Lion Hotel for a shelter expansion in August when O’Neill was hoping for a 17th Street study. Peterson-Stigers did not learn about the State Street property being available until mid-September, the emails showed.
Property owners hope for stricter parking
This study was not what Galloway was hoping for.
Over the past year, his frustration with the conditions on 17th Street and near his Americana Boulevard office has grown. He wrote a sternly worded email to city officials in February, calling the 17th Street area a “disaster” and implored the city to take action. He said there had been multiple meetings about the topic, but nothing to fix the problems he has experienced with “broken down (motorhomes) and trailers filled with garbage” filling the streets and sidewalks.
Earlier this month, Boise City Council approved a new code change tightening the city’s 72-hour parking rule requiring people to move a more significant distance to avoid a ticket. City Council Member Patrick Bageant, who sponsored the ordinance, said that ordinance was in response from complaints throughout the city and not related to the issues on 17th Street. He had seen BPD’s analysis of the area, but said it had no bearing on the passing of the ordinance.
Galloway said this change to tighten the rule is not enough to address his complaints with the RVs and cars circulating in the area near his building. Instead, he wants Mayor Lauren McLean to institute two-hour parking on the street or create paid parking. Galloway said this proposal has not gained any traction at city hall.
He questions the need for CCDC to spend taxpayer dollars on a study when there are already recommendations for how to improve the area that came out of BPD’s analysis of the area at the end of last year.
“What we’re looking for is a higher standard where employees can feel safe and property owners can feel proud of the area,” he said. “…The issue is you have people parking overnight and putting stuff, garbage all throughout the streets. They park there, they do drug transactions and it makes for an unfavorable environment.”