A developer’s request to switch up plans for improving the road up to the Warm Springs Mesa got unanimously shot down by the Ada County Highway District.
On Wednesday, ACHD Commissioners heard a request from developer Mark Tate of M3 Companies to scale back a 2018 development agreement that requires widening Starview Drive and adding a sidewalk and bike lane.
Under the agreement with the City of Boise and ACHD, these improvements would be required before Tate could finish developing 49 homes on the Mesa.
It can be done, but should it?
The Warm Springs Mesa Neighborhood Association and other residents of the neighborhood have been virulently opposed to the scaleback for over a year, citing the steep narrow grade of Starview and the need for more safe connectivity for bicyclists and pedestrians. They argued if M3 wanted to develop the last few parcels, they needed to abide by the original agreement.
But, Tate said his company tried to change plans after a 2019 geotechnical study of the slope found instability and it would require substantial excavation, 17 foot retaining walls and other measures to stabilize the road to the specifications required in the 2018 agreement.
“I ride my bike all the time and I am a huge proponent of bike lanes, but we have to take existing conditions into consideration and realize we’re in the foothills and on a road that is very substandard currently and substandard from a geotechnical standpoint,” Tate said. “Does it really make sense and go to a 40 foot wide street section? We’re contending that’s probably not the best idea.”
M3 proposed an alternative plan, which would still include easing the tight, blind hairpin curve at the top of the hill, improving the intersection with Starview Drive and Warm Springs Avenue and widening the road throughout. Since the contentious neighborhood meeting on the proposal at the end of 2020, M3 also redesigned the project to allow a multi-use path all the way down the hill. It was not as wide as a bike lane and sidewalk, but Tate said it still provided the connectivity the neighborhood was wanting without the dramatic excavation.
Original agreement to stand
The ACHD Commissioners were not swayed by his arguments.
The entire commission agreed that because M3 had agreed to the improvements in exchange for being able to build the homes three years ago, there’s no reason they cannot continue with the project as is. Commissioner David McKinney said the developer shouldn’t get to change the agreement just because they studied the issue further.
“Based on the testimony, what it looks like we have here is an agreement that was reached with the applicant and when they looked more deeply into the situation they had a greater appreciation for the complexities and costs,” he said. “What they agreed to do could be done and should be done. Since they’ve agreed to do it, I don’t see any justification to back away from that agreement.”
The history of the project goes all the way back to 2000. Developer Wise & Sons put in an application two decades ago to build 228 homes on the Warm Springs Mesa in phases. Construction continued for years under Wise & Sons, until Tate took over the project and filed permits for the eight and ninth phase of the lengthy project. These new phases will total 49 new homes.
Tate originally planned to request the development agreement be altered last March, but then the pandemic set in and it was unclear when hearings and neighborhood meetings could continue. To continue despite the uncertainty, M3 put up a $2.5 million surety bond with ACHD.
This $2.5 million bond is part of standard procedure with ACHD and functions as a down payment to the agency on required road improvements so construction can continue before the improvements are made. If he were to not complete the project by August or his company defaults, ACHD would take the $2.5 million and complete the project on its own.
Commissioner Jim Hansen referenced the risk M3 took with the bond, saying this wasn’t a reason to alter the terms of the agreement.
“The party made a calculated decision to move forward on a development,” Hansen said. “It was a calculated risk and they knew that. I see no reason why we should back away from the position the staff has taken (to oppose the change).”