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Emails: City officials in talks about Murgoitio land swap since early 2020

Officials have been kicking around the idea of swapping the Murgoitio park site with the Harris Family since before the pandemic hit Idaho.

Boise Parks and Recreation officials and Harris Ranch developer Doug Fowler discussed the possibility since February 2020, according to a cache of emails obtained by BoiseDev under Idaho’s open records act. These talks included early estimation of value for the Murgoitio site, which was based on the restrictive covenants on the property limiting the development value.

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On February 12, 2020, Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway emailed Fowler to let him know the city was not interested in his proposal for a community center on the site of the new elementary school planned for Harris Ranch. He said the city declined this project because it was a “completely different model” than what the city currently has. But, Fowler said there was “some interest” in a “possible” trade of foothills land for the Murgoitio site.

Holloway told BoiseDev last week the proposal was initiated by Fowler, not the city – echoing earlier comments by Boise Mayor Lauren McLean. Harris family spokesperson Amanda Watson did not return an email asking who initiated the conversation.

A shrinking park

By early June of last year, the city and Fowler worked out an agreement to obtain early broker’s opinion of value documents about the foothills property and the Murgoitio site. Holloway told BoiseDev the agreement was Fowler was responsible for obtaining the estimation of value for the Murgoitio site and the city obtained the estimation for the foothills property. Properties must be of roughly equal value to execute a land swap in Idaho.

The iteration of the proposal discussed during mid-2020 included 30 acres for a park on-site, not the seven rolled out to the public as a possibility in 2021, according to a PowerPoint presentation obtained by BoiseDev. Parks and Recreation staff also mapped out the possibility of a 40-acre park in late April, according to records obtained by the Friends of Murgoitio Park group and provided to BoiseDev. City of Boise spokesperson Bonnie Shelton confirmed the authenticity of the emails.

A potential mock-up of a 40-acre park the City of Boise drew up in April 2020 for the Murgoitio site. Records courtesy of the City of Boise and obtained by the Friends of Murgoitio Park nonprofit.

Holloway told BoiseDev in an email that the eventual reduction in proposed parkland was because the developer needed to build more homes in order to keep the prices below the market rate, which is part of the deal.

‘Restrictions to overcome’ for Murgoitio

Colliers International completed the estimations of value for both parcels. The final draft submitted to the city estimated the 160-acre was worth $7.8 million, or $60,000 per acre. This takes into account the 30 acres that would be donated back to the City of Boise for a park. In the document, the broker estimated the Murgoitio site’s value at $9.1 million if it were annexed into city limits.

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The document cited “restrictions to overcome” in order for it to become development-ready. When asked to clarify, Holloway said this was in reference to the restrictive covenants the city placed on the property in the late 90s and its location outside of city limits.

The City of Boise is currently waiting on an official appraisal of the site to see its official value as officials continue to consider the trade.

Earlier this month, the Boise School District auctioned off a 15-acre parcel of land next to its headquarters directly north of the Murgoitio site for $12.04 million. It is not currently annexed into the city limits.

Zoning agreement part of the deal

In November 2020, Fowler sent over a bullet point list outlining the possible trade to Mayor Lauren McLean’s Chief of Staff Courtney Washburn. This proposal included trading 306 acres of foothills land for the Murgoitio site with several other conditions, including the park site being “zoned to the satisfaction” of the City of Boise and Harris Ranch. Fowler proposed the city and Harris Ranch agreeing on a planning process for the zoning of the 160-acre site.

A September 2020 email obtained by BoiseDev between Foothills and Open Space Superintendent Sara Arkle and Parks Planning Administrator Treavor Kesner said the city planned to go public with the possibility of the swap in October, but plans for a public meeting never went through until this summer.

Holloway said the city needed more time on the proposal.

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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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