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Judge allows Boise house & apartment project to move forward over neighborhood concerns

Ada County’s Fourth District Court didn’t have much sympathy for Boise’s Northwest Neighborhood Association’s arguments against a 226-unit subdivision near Hill Road Parkway.

In mid-July, NWNA had its day in court to continue its fight against Trilogy Development’s Prominence subdivision it has bitterly opposed since it was first introduced in 2017. In the hearing, the neighborhood association’s attorney Brian Ertz argued the City of Boise illegally approved the subdivision and said the density of the project would negatively impact the private property rights of the neighbors by harming wildlife and endangering their health by straining the fire response system.

[Northwest Boise residents push back against housing density in zoning code proposal]

Judge Darla Williamson sided with the City of Boise and the developer, allowing the project to proceed.

“The Northwest Neighborhood Association has not shown that the city council acted in excess of constitutional or statutory provisions; in excess of the statutory authority of the agency, acted upon unlawful procedure; that its decision was not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, or was arbitrary, capricious or an abuse of discretion.”

NWNA President Richard Llewellyn said the neighborhood is considering taking the case to a higher court for another look at their case.

“We are currently exploring our options for moving forward, as we are confident in the underlying merits of our case,” Llewellyn wrote in an email.

Judge unswayed by arguments about “visual context”

Idaho is a strong property rights state, and in the decision, Williamson noted the Idaho Supreme Court has previously found it is “not easy” for someone opposing a development to prove a project will violate their substantial rights. She said it’s not enough for someone to prove the local government misapplied its own ordinance; the group or individual opposing the project has to show evidence that it would impact their property.

“Essentially, NWNA asserts that any development of this private land prejudices its substantial rights to “open space and rural character,” Williamson wrote. “More than this is required to demonstrate prejudice to substantial rights. Otherwise, any development of private land would satisfy the requirement as to already existing property owners who simply oppose any development or change in the status quo.”

The neighborhood association argued that the project would impact the surrounding area in several ways, like the loss of “visual context” of rural character in the area, impacts to wildlife that live on the undeveloped property and in the irrigation laterals, and the loss of a section of a trail associated with the Oregon Trail that NWNA asserts runs through the property.

Prominence subdivision Boise
Prominence subdivision Boise. Via Jensen Belts Associates.

One by one, Williamson’ decision went through various exhibits and other evidence provided by NWNA and did not find any of it sufficient. She said several residents testified about the impacts of these changes to their property during the multiple and lengthy hearings held on the project in 2019, but few of them identified themselves as members of the Northwest Neighborhood Association or gave specific locations of their properties in relation to the Prominence project.

Some nearby residents also argued that the project would impact the neighbors’ agricultural uses on their own properties, but Williamson said they did not show how that was possible. Trilogy’s property is former farmland but is zoned for residential development before the application.

NWNA submitted several materials arguing the impact, like some James Castle artworks that they argued were inspired by the neighborhood’s rural character, but she said none of it substantially proved harm. She also listened to an oral history interview with Steven Matlock conducted by Llewellyn in 2019, but she said it was “rambling,” and she could not determine where exactly Matlock was referring to when he described the section of historic trail the neighborhood argues runs through the area.

“The numerous existing homes surrounding this area on at least three sides have already caused loss of visual context, loss of wildlife habitat and rural uses, etc.,” Williamson wrote. “And presumably, many of NWNA’s members presumably live in the housing developments surrounding this area, and their housing developments presumably caused the same conditions they now object to.”

Fire service blocked

Another major point of contention for the Northwest Neighborhood Association has always been fire service in this section of the city.

Since the area was first annexed in 2014, several developments have been approved on the city’s semi-rural edge, but construction has not yet started on a fire station in the neighborhood. One of the city council’s conditions of approving Prominence was that the densest portion of the project could not begin construction until the city has started on a Northwest Boise fire station. The city is still searching for a location for the project.

In their arguments, NWNA said that adding more density to the area increases the likelihood that two concurrent calls for service will come in, and the fire department will not be able to provide medical treatment or put out a fire in time. They argued the lack of adequate fire service in the area close to the wildland-urban interface has resulted in “millions of dollars in past damages,” but Williamson said did not provide “evidentiary support” for these claims.

NWNA association members have frequently argued the city cannot approve more housing in the Northwest area because most of it is outside of the fire response times the city aims for in its comprehensive plan. Williamson shot down this argument, noting that comprehensive plans are not legally binding and only serve as a guide for localities when approving projects.

Williamson said there is information in the record to suggest there isn’t adequate fire coverage in the area, but the neighborhood association has “no authority in support of its assertion that it has an equal protection right to the provision of emergency services as a neighborhood association, or as it seems to argue, that it has an equal protection right to some ratio or emergency service providers per resident (or degree of distance) for its members.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified judge Darla Williamson as judge Deborah Bail. Bail retired, and Williamson heard the case.

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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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