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Residents organize for next phase of Murgoitio site debate; City again says FAA didn’t pay for land

A group of determined residents in Southwest Boise is not excited about the possibility of anything other than a regional park at the Murgoitio site.

On Monday, two different groups of neighbors gathered to urge the City of Boise to steer away from its vision for housing on the 160-acre piece of city-owned land south of Victory Road instead of the park city officials planned for in the late 1990s. Since June, residents in Southwest Boise and activists in other corners of the city have been incensed by discussions of trading away the large swath of open space to make way for residential development amid the city’s unprecedented housing crunch.

[Murgoitio family applies to annex land into Boise for 1000s of homes. But it’s not the park site]

Mayor Lauren McLean gave the neighbors a short-lived victory last Monday when she announced the city was backing away from a proposed land swap with the Harris family to exchange for foothills land. But, the city council came back on Tuesday to discuss its plans to move ahead with annexing the parcel and designate it compact for homes.

A large park? Or housing?

Supporters for Murgoitio park packed Legends Pub and Grill on Tuesday night for a joint meeting hosted by the Southwest Ada County Alliance and the South Cole Neighborhood Association.

There, leaders for the two neighborhood associations took suggestions from the crowd and talked strategy for the upcoming public hearings on the annexation in August. South Cole Neighborhood Association President Kathy Corless briefed the audience on mentions of the Murgoitio site she found in various plans and documents and pitched an idea for community members to donate paths, benches, and trees to keep costs down.

“The city will say ‘we never promised you a park’,” Corless said, scoring a big, rueful laugh from the audience.

The master plan of Murgoitio Park. It was previously on the city’s website, until it was taken down after news of the city’s potential land swap broke. Courtesy of the City of Boise

The Murgoitio park site earned a mention in the city’s comprehensive plan and had a master plan on the city’s website, but it was never on the city’s capital improvement plan. Projects must be on this specific planning document in order to be funded by impact fees.

The majority of Southwest Boise, including the Murgoitio site, lies outside of Boise City limits and residents have not been paying property taxes into the city. Impact fees were collected in the area, but at lower rates for properties outside of city limits. Over $4 million of these impact fees went to develop Molenaar Park and Peppermint Park, while over $6 million went to the city’s regional parks.

Corless and her counterpart SWACA President Marisa Keith told BoiseDev they were disappointed in the lack of engagement the city was doing on the Murgoitio site. Keith said they asked the city to survey residents about what they hoped to see or some other kind of reach out, but instead the city wanted to plow ahead with housing.

Since news broke of the potential land swap, McLean and City Council President Elaine Clegg said they were entertaining the possibility because of the housing shortage in Boise. They hoped to leverage the city’s landholdings to get homes priced below the median, which is currently over half a million and climbing.

‘Keep it as is’

South Cole Neighborhood Association member Kathy Corless and Southwest Ada County Alliance President Marisa Keith address a packed room at Legends Pub and Grill about the Murgoitio site. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

During a rapid-fire round of feedback, audience members shouted hopes for the park for neighborhood associations to take down on a notepad. Ideas included several shouts for a skatepark, a covered pavilion for events, a BMX course for kids, open fields, basketball courts, and even a multi-acre dog training area.

Keith, along with former Republican County Commissioner Sharon Ullman in the audience, encouraged residents to come to the August 9th Planning & Zoning meeting and tell the city to annex the Murgoitio site as open space, not compact development set for housing. Then, if McLean doesn’t have the funding to build the park the city can wait until someone else can get it done.

“If they are unwilling to work with us on a decent timeline to build a park, we will ask that they keep it as is until someone with more direction comes along and is able to work with the county and work with donors to be able to develop that,” Keith said.

Airport regulations play a part in the debate

Earlier in the day, nonprofit Friends of Murgoitio Park had strong words for the City of Boise.

On the steps outside of City Hall, FOMP supporters waved their trademark green signs in support of the park and threw fireballs at McLean. David King, FOMP organizer, criticized the city’s “frenetic” pace to push through the annexation and development of Murgoitio park as an attempt to ram it through before the November election when three council members are up.

King and fellow organizer Alex Danilovitch cast doubt on the city’s truthfulness about whether or not the city used Federal Aviation Administration funds to purchase Murgoitio park in the early 1990s. Airport spokesperson Sean Briggs told BoiseDev earlier this month the parcel was purchased without FAA help and is not subject to any requirements from the agency.

FOMP provided members of the media with a memo referencing a “Plan Sponsor Certification” from 1993 about the Murgoitio purchase, which they say is “clear evidence” that the parcel was purchased with federal dollars.

[Project Tracker: Murgoitio park site]

The City of Boise says this isn’t so. In response to the press conference, city spokesperson Bonnie Shelton said the Murgoitio site was purchased with enterprise funds, which come from the operation of the airport, not grant funds or local taxpayer dollars. She also pushed back against FOMP’s claims that the city is slow-walking access to public records to hide information about any FAA funds being used for the purchase.

Shelton said there is one outstanding public records request related to Murgoitio park that was impacted by a computer glitch where an initial response wasn’t generated, and staff is still gathering additional records. Several of the items are stored on microfilm and Shelton said the city is working on how to allow residents to view them.

“The City of Boise complies with all aspects of the Idaho Public Records Act,” Shelton said. “There has been no attempt to prevent the release of any public records related to the parcel. Boise Airport files do not contain the ‘Plan Sponsor Certification’ form – only the memo that mentions the form. Records indicate the Boise Airport considered the possibility of federal funding for the Murgoitio parcel. However, the airport never moved forward with applying for federal grant funding nor received any federal grant funding for the parcel.”

The group member who filed the records request sent a follow-up email after it was due that was not returned and FOMP’s attorney Brian Ertz also sent a demand letter for the information. The city did not respond to the attorney either.

Friends of Murgoitio Park organizers David King and Alex Danilovitch address the media on Monday. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

The Murgoitio site as well as all of the surrounding subdivisions lie in the Airport Overlay Zone and are subject to regulations to protect residents from noise. This does not prohibit residential development, but any homes built there are required to have specific noise muffling protections.

The City of Boise announced last week it retained a law firm specializing in FAA regulations to guide the city through the process of removing the restrictive covenants placed on it in the 1990s properly. But, King alleged the outside counsel has a much more sinister purpose.

“As far as the PR, public messaging on this project, mark my words, this is not the mayor’s project for workforce housing,” King said. “This is high-density housing for the demise of the airport.”

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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