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More housing, more places: Early Boise zoning rewrite draft proposes increased density city-wide

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An early look at Boise’s proposed revamped zoning code shows a revamp that would allow more housing in more neighborhoods. 

Earlier this month, the City of Boise released a draft of the first of three parts of its rewritten zoning code as part of a multi-year process to build the code from the ground up for the first time in decades. The process began under former Mayor Dave Bieter and continues under Mayor Lauren McLean with the assistance of national land-use consulting firm Clarion Associates. 

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This first section, which remains under development, governs the number of zones in the city and what is allowed in each. The second and third sections will cover design standards and the processes for applying for and approving projects. The City of Boise will hold events this month and next to take input on the proposed code rewrite. You can also give your input in a survey here

Housing, housing housing

Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

The proposed code allows a more diverse range of housing in all residential zones, including single-family areas. Under the changes, duplexes, triplexes and townhomes would be allowed on any residential parcels. Denser residential zones, like R2 and R3, would allow cottage courts, live-work units, courtyard apartments, mid-rise and high-rise apartments. 

Deanna Dupuy, a planner with the City of Boise, said the goal of this requirement is to diversify the city’s neighborhoods by providing a range of different types next to each other. 

“It’s a greater mix of housing types within neighborhoods and this comes from the idea that the city’s goal of a home for everyone will provide a home for people with different generation needs and different income needs in the same neighborhood and a mix of housing is a way to meet those goals,” Dupuy said. 

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This doesn’t mean developers will be able to build whatever they choose in single family neighborhoods. For each zone, there will be different standards for how these denser developments will have to fit into the neighborhood, with stricter requirements for setbacks and other changes for projects in lower density zones. 

The first module only addresses what can go where, but the second module will focus on what those requirements and design standards will look like. 

“Now (denser units will be) allowed, but we will have a set of rules that say ‘here’s what we know are important for those uses to integrate into a neighborhood,” Andrea Tuning, another city planner assigned to the project, said. “It will be things like having doors facing the street, requirements for where parking is located and setbacks.”

Fewer zones

The proposed change also drops the number of zones in Boise from 24 down to 16. 

This change includes consolidating the seven residential zones down to five: large lot residential, suburban residential, urban residential, mixed-use residential and high-density residential. It will also condense several commercial and office zones into four mixed-use zones. 

Current urban planning trends move away from car-centric properties with a singular use, like shopping centers for shopping. Instead, the city says best practices are moving toward denser projects integrating housing, commercial and office uses into one project with multiple stories located near public transit. The move toward mixed-use zones in the proposed code reflects that trend. 

Another part of the code rewrite includes expanded allowances for “limited food and drink,” like the Roosevelt Market, in medium and high-density residential zones to provide residents with businesses within walking distances. 

“You see it in Bown Crossing, Hyde Park and some of those mixed-use developments like that and people tell us every day ‘we want more of that’,” Tuning said. “If we can start to evolve to encourage these mixtures of uses to happen, we can get housing and workplaces and all of these destinations close to people so they can walk or bike or whatever their chosen mode of transportation is.”

A new code, fewer overlays

The code rewrite also would simplify the approval processes for certain projects. Right now, the city requires planned unit development approvals in many instances for denser residential developments and mixed-use projects in the city. The new code will cut down on the number of these approvals go up before Boise City Council for a public hearing. 

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“If we can remove some of those barriers that exist and allow some of those things to happen, we want to remove those obstacles to allow various uses to support one another,” Tuning said. “We want people near where jobs are, we want people where there is the ability to use transit and where they can build those places that can help support one another.”

The change also proposes cutting down on the number of overlay zones in the city. These are geographic areas with specific rules on top of the existing zoning codes to address situations like historic preservation and to protect residents from jet noise from the airport. 

Dupuy said overlays serve an important purpose, but if you add too many of them it can make things confusing for developers and residential property owners to complete projects. The city says the goal is to build a more modern and flexible code so fewer overlays are needed. 

“If you’re a regular code user or using it for the first time figuring out if you can build a fence or not, it’s confusing to figure out what you’re allowed to do if you’re going through 100 different overlays,” she said. “We want to make it as user-friendly as possible.”

The Boise City Council will ultimately need to sign off on the revamped code after a public hearing process. Dates for hearings are not yet set.

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. 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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