Southwest Boiseans have a lot of questions for the City of Boise over a potential land swap of a park site south of Victory Road.
More than 400 people registered for a virtual neighborhood meeting on Thursday to hear from the Parks and Recreation Department about its potential plans to annex the 160-acre Murgoitio Park and swap it with a yet unnamed developer for open space in the foothills.
Details are still being negotiated, but city officials say the swap would allow the development of housing at or below the median price, a paved pathway along the canal in the area, and a 7-acre park.
The city is also in talks with the Boise School District to use the roughly 40-acre parcel directly north of the Murgoitio parcel for additional open space and pathways for the neighborhood.
But, nearby residents say the park site, which has been undeveloped since the city acquired it in the 1990s, should be developed as promised. During the meeting, Boise’s Parks Superintendent Jennifer Tomlinson answered a flood of questions pouring in from neighbors who questioned the possible swap and the city’s reasoning for not building out the site, which is barely outside the city’s border in Ada County.
“As part of the city’s program as far as park development we do not green up parks that are not in the city limits,” Tomlinson said. “We rely on the residents within city limits to maintain the parks. That is the reason this has come to be such an issue because this property is not in our city limits and has never been in any of our capital plans for development.”
What’s the history?
The Boise Airport purchased the 160-acre parcel from the Murgoitio family for $1.275 million in 1992. At the time of the sale, the family did not place any restrictions on how it could be used in the future, but a year later Boise City Council passed a resolution intending to develop it into a park.
The Boise Airport followed this up with a range of restrictive covenants saying there should not be any residential or commercial development on the property and it should be used for a park.
In 1998, Boise City Council authorized a purchase agreement to buy the 160-acre property for $655,000.
All of this doesn’t mean the city can’t change course though, Tomlinson said. She said the city council can vote to remove the restrictive covenants from the property if they choose, as long as the city agrees to pay the airport the $625,000 back. The airport is part of the City of Boise, but operates as an “enterprise fund,” with its own self-sustaining budget.
The restrictive covenants on a small section of the property were removed by council in 2009 in order to build a fire station.
Annexation and funding woes
This part of town has a somewhat fraught relationship with the City of Boise.
In the late 1970s, a rash of septic tank failures caused the city to agree to pipe city sewer out to the area in exchange for later annexation. Development of the Murgoitio Park property was supposed to be paid for with the increased impact fees and property taxes from the neighborhoods brought into the city. Several times, the City of Boise started the process of annexation and “it did not go well,” Tomlinson said.
At Thursday’s meeting, several attendees asked if the city could once again look into annexing the area in order to pay for the park. But, this has gotten more complicated with the new property tax reform bill passed earlier this year that limits the amount of tax revenue Boise can take in from annexations and new construction.
Tomlinson said this makes it difficult to fund the project, which is estimated to cost between $30 and $35 million to install grass, pathways, parking and trees to the site. It is currently farmland, which is leased back to members of the Murgoitio family to grow crops on.
‘Not prepared for high density housing’
In the chat, neighbors called foul on the city’s decision to discuss the possibility of the swap. Several people asked pointed questions about the equity of park space in the southwestern part of the city and the downtown core near the foothills and major downtown parks. Other people asked why the city couldn’t build a larger park space.
“WHY DID YOU PURCHASE IT & AGREE TO THE COVENANTS IF YOU ‘NEVER’ WERE GOING TO GREEN IT UP,” Cynthia Oleary typed into the chat box.
Other attendees took issue with the potential of the Murgoitio site being marked for “compact development” on the comprehensive plan if it is brought into the city. They said without offering evidence, the roads in the area, which are built and maintained by the Ada County Highway District, are not sufficient to support new homes.
“The area is not prepared to support the high-density housing,” Nathan Kaufman wrote. “Roads, schools, etc. Along with the fact the SW area does not have any significant “green area… Please… listen to the residents.”
The next steps in this process include a public hearing at Planning & Zoning Commission in August on the proposal to annex the parcel into the city. Then, City Council will have to vote on removing the covenants on the property if they would like to move forward with the swap.
Details of the potential development proposal, the location of the foothills property the developer would like to trade and the identity of the developer are all unknown.