The City of Eagle had big plans for a park in western Eagle, but today it went up for auction.
At the end of 2019, former Eagle Mayor Stan Ridgeway left office touting plans for a 35-acre park site at Floating Feather Rd. and Meridian Rd. with sports fields and a dog park. But now, Mayor Jason Pierce and the city council say the spot isn’t right for a park, and they need to sell the land to make up for “misspent” funds by the previous administration.
The property is marked for two residential units per acre on the city’s comprehensive plan. It went up for auction at 12:30 Tuesday afternoon, starting at $5 million. Pierce said the area is mostly full of homes on large lots, so a park is not needed, and it would draw in more traffic to the area than a subdivision would.
Pierce said he talked about how the site, called West Park, wasn’t a good site for a park during his campaign.
“That park would bring between 500 to 1,000 people a day, which would be 1,000 to 2,000 cars in an area that is mostly large lots,” Pierce said. “It’s a lot of one acre, two acre, five acre, parcels. People buy those lots to not have people drive into their area. They’re getting away from people.”
‘We were promised a park’
Not everyone in the area is pleased with more homes going in.
On May 25th, two residents appeared before Eagle’s City Council during public comment to press officials on why they sold the park. Julie McCallsen said the city should not have reversed course on the plans for the open space instead of selling it to another developer to build on while the city is booming.
“Eagle residents are not happy,” McCallsen said. “We were all promised a park. We all live on this side of the town and there are no parks over there. There’s nothing.”
At the meeting, Pierce doubled down on his stance to sell the park and use the revenue from the sale toward a larger regional park, hopefully closer to Linder Road, where development is denser. He also pointed out that the city entered into a public-private partnership with PetIQ, where the company paid to build a 2.5-acre dog park on Horseshoe Bend Road.
“We’re working with other developers on the west side where there’s more density in Eagle where it makes sense to put parks,” Pierce told McCallsen. “We’re working with them so they’ll give us the land so we can go ahead and build the parks. We’ll have this money that, I think, would have been spent wrongly, to put into parks and do things faster, so we can bring those amenities into the community quicker.”
Money, money, money
City finances are also a big piece of the puzzle.
Under Ridgeway, Pierce said the City of Eagle used roughly $1 million of park impact fees toward improvements at Reid W. Merrill Park on Shore Drive. Park impact fees are paid by developers to help the city build new parks, but Pierce said these improvements were not listed on the city’s capital improvement plan.
Because this wasn’t in the plan, Pierce and city council said it left the City of Eagle open to a potential lawsuit from developers who paid the fees to demand they be repaid. To make the account whole, Pierce said they moved $1 million from the city’s maintenance fund into the impact fees account.
After the initial publication of this story, Ridgeway, Eagle’s former mayor, contacted BoiseDev and panned Pierce’s allegations of misspent funds as “totally false.” He said the city used an RFP process to purchase the land to stop speculation on the sale.
Ridgeway said the city council appropriates the amount of money spent, but it’s city staffers who oversee specific projects and how money was spent. He said if there were misspent funds, it would have been done by a staffer, not him, and caught in an annual audit.
“This is a very convoluted mess and I think in general what (Pierce and city council is) doing is they’re making these decisions and rather than have the backbone to stand behind their decisions they’re just throwing things out there and the public is hearing that and thinking we did something wrong,” Ridgeway said. “City council and the previous mayor didn’t do anything wrong and didn’t misspend any funds. It’s a shame politics has come down to this.”
City Council first discussed the park site at its March 4th meeting, followed by an executive session to discuss the potential litigation on March 18th, Pierce said. Then, the city held a public hearing on the park sale on April 13.
Sale to fund more parks
The sale of West Park will replenish the city’s maintenance fund, and then the extra funds will go back into the park impact fee account to be used toward more park space later.
Pierce also took issue with the park’s cost because the site would require another $2 million for the city to build a road through the parcel and to tile an irrigation ditch in order to be able to start construction. He said this was not a good use of taxpayer dollars.
“We would have had to spend $4.5 million on the park before you even build a park,” Pierce said. “Then you have to build the dog park, ball fields, and everything else. We were talking five to seven years down the road before it got done.”