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Boise residents object to possible $1.9 million payment from tax dollars to developers

A group of Harris Ranch residents isn’t happy with a request for taxpayer dollars to compensate a developer for the value of land a road in their subdivision was built on.

Roughly 600 homes in the Harris Ranch subdivision in Boise’s Barber Valley are part of a community infrastructure district. The CID levies an extra tax on homeowners to compensate the developer for infrastructure improvements to the area. Over the past year, a growing number of homeowners started raising opposition about the CID, the extra taxes they are paying and what developer Doug Fowler, his company LeNir and Harris Family LP are being compensated for.

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Last week, representatives from the newly formed Harris Ranch CID Taxpayers’ Association appeared before the CID commission to voice their concerns about a potential $1.9 million payout to Fowler the district is considering. The committee made up of City Council President Elaine Clegg and council members Holli Woodings and TJ Thomson and supported by city staff, will take up Fowler’s request for reimbursements in mid-August after they study the request.

A ‘hypothetical’ appraisal

Fowler is hoping the district will use funds collected from homes in the CID and pay him back for the value of the land used to build roads to homes in Harris Ranch. According to an appraisal submitted to the city obtained by BoiseDev, the 4.52 acres of land that became roads leading to residents’ driveways is valued at $1.874 million.

This is based on the hypothetical assumption that the land where the road was built could have been used for residential development, but instead, the developer gave it up to build a road.

A map of the pieces of land under the road network Doug Fowler is seeking reimbursement for. Courtesy of the Harris Ranch Community Infrastructure District

Many Harris Ranch residents aren’t convinced.

The Harris Ranch CID Taxpayers’ Association, which executive committee members Larry Crowley and Bill Doyle say now has over 300 members, sent a letter to the city decrying the request, arguing using land to build roads is simply part of doing business.

“A development without any access roads, in which homeowners would have to hike perhaps a half dozen blocks or more to get to their homes, would not be an attractive development,” the letter said. “More importantly, it would not have received the requisite development permits. So, the “fair market value” of land on which a public roadway is required to be constructed as a condition for the development is almost nil.”

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When BoiseDev reached out to Fowler to get a comment on the letter, he declined to comment beyond confirming that he did submit the request the group is referencing for consideration.

“In the 39 years I’ve owned LeNir Ltd. I have yet to respond to unsigned or anonymous correspondence,” Fowler said.

‘Contrary to facts and contrary to reason’

At last week’s Harris Ranch meeting, Thomson, Clegg and Woodings referenced a flood of emails they received from residents opposing this reimbursement and expressing frustration with the CID in general. Several members of the public testified, telling the panel that they were not notified of the extra taxes they were agreeing to until the very last minute when they were about to sign the title paperwork on their new home.

Doyle, a former lawyer with experience in municipal bonds out of state, argued in the hearing that the entire CID violated the Idaho Constitution because it allowed for debt to be incurred without direct voter approval.

“Many, if not most of the proposed expenditures are in my view improper for a variety of legal reasons,” Doyle said. “Those include the both proposed and past payments for the developer that assume the land under which local access streets were built and are required to be dedicated to the public could be developed with homes. That is contrary to the facts and contrary to reason. A reasonable person will not agree to pay me anything for a property they must immediately gift to (the city).”

Only landowners can decide to join the CID. At the time of the district’s creation, the Harris Family owned large portions of the land they wanted to develop and opted these parcels into the district. Those areas, which were built into the subdivisions you see today, have since been sold to homeowners and other developers to build on, but they are still in the CID and owe the extra taxes.

In his public hearing comments, Crowley acknowledged that Harris Ranch is an attractive neighborhood, but he objects to the fact that homeowners were never given a real chance to weigh in on whether they would like to foot the bill for it.

“There may be some nice amenities within Harris Ranch, but one should have the opportunity to say ‘I agree they are nice and I agree to pay for them,’ but we don’t get that chance,” he said. “We don’t get the opportunity to determine if those amendments are worth spending thousands of dollars a year in extra property taxes to pay for them.”

Panel calls for increased transparency

Clegg and Woodings told the audience they were interested in working to find a better solution to make sure everyone who buys in the neighborhood knows what they’re getting themselves into.

Woodings noted that if the CID was working as intended, homes would be selling for less in the district than outside of it because it was understood that residents would pay for infrastructure over time by helping pay back bonds taken out by the developer. If that’s not happening, then it means more information should be available.

“When you’re seeing properties across the street in the CID and those that don’t have the same value, well that shouldn’t be because people should be willing to pay a little bit less in the CID understanding they’ll be paying for that infrastructure,” Woodings said. “If that wasn’t provided upfront then people aren’t able to make that decision for themselves if they are willing to pay upfront knowing they’ll have that additional tax burden. That’s really important.”

Clegg noted that it isn’t uncommon for voters to approve taking on debt, like a school levy, and for new residents of an area to pay that debt without having voted on it. She said the Harris Ranch CID is based on the state statute, but is also managed in a way that as much of the taxpayer funds go to improvements as possible. Efforts like the board’s vote to refinance some CID bonds to get a lower interest rate than 9% is an example of that.

“In fact, we’ve based our decisions on the state law as it’s written,” Clegg said. “We’ve based our decisions on attempting to ensure that as much of that money gets collected gets spent on infrastructure and the least amount on the interest payments.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev senior 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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