The Harris Ranch Community Infrastructure District is lawyering up after a wave of complaints from residents.
Last week, the Harris Ranch CID board, which consists of three city council members even though it is technically a separate entity from the city, voted unanimously to hire Givens Pursley partners Kimberly Maloney and Melodie McQuade to represent them. This comes after residents of the CID organized a citizens’ group in recent months to object to the constitutionality of the district itself, the extra taxes and a range of projects the developer is asking to be compensated for.
What is the Harris Ranch CID?
The Harris Ranch CID is a special taxing district with roughly 600 homes requiring an additional property tax for residents that is used to reimburse the developer for infrastructure projects and other neighborhood amenities, with the idea that improvements can be built upfront as the neighborhood grows. Harris Ranch, developed by Doug Fowler, is Idaho’s first CID, and remains the only one that has issued bonds for projects so far.
The Harris Ranch CID Taxpayers Association and its supporters flooded the CID with roughly 200 emails objecting to the district and several potential reimbursements set for approval soon, including a request for $1.9 million to cover the value of land roads to homes were built on. The group said last week it plans to file suit challenging the legality of a bond and the district itself.
At the meeting, staff of the CID said the outside attorneys will be able to give advice on projects for approval in “the near future” and they have experience in bond issuance and redevelopment.
Board members vote for costly legal representation
Board Member Holli Woodings acknowledged the cost to taxpayers of hiring outside counsel, but she said it was “well-warranted” to iron out questions in Idaho code governing the districts.
“In the words of another one of our city team members…t his is a little bit squishy,” Woodings said. “Since we are bound by this Idaho Statue… that doesn’t really clearly spell out a lot of these issues, there is some squishiness in there – this is a wise way to go forward. This will end up costing more money in the long term because engaging lawyers always costs money.”
Board Member Elaine Clegg said it’s not uncommon for new statutes like this to be reviewed by the courts relatively early after being adopted, but she hoped it wouldn’t be too costly and Harris Ranch can continue.
“As Board Member Woodings noted, this won’t be cheap,” Clegg said. “It will cost the homeowners money ultimately. It will cost the developer time and money. My hope is that it doesn’t cost the development the great success that it has enjoyed to date, but it is the prudent and responsible way to proceed the way that we are at with the various issues that have been raised with the CID.”
Millions of dollars in projects under scrutiny
Since objecting to the road reimbursement at the end of July, the Harris Ranch CID Taxpayers has submitted four more letters objecting to projects Fowler and his development company Lenir is requesting reimbursement for. They range from local access streets, yard irrigation systems, reimbursement for the value of wetlands easements, three roundabouts and interest payments. In total, they raised questions about the legality of $14.1 million worth of payments.
“We note…that we are increasingly concerned that the requested reimbursements by the Developer, based on our limited reviews to date, appear to show an emerging pattern of their requesting payments to which they are not contractually and/or legally entitled,” the fourth letter of objection concluded. “That is more than a little disturbing to us as it should be to all parties involved with the CID.”
Correction: This version of the article has been corrected to reflect the names of the Givens Pursley attorneys hired by the Harris Ranch board. They were incorrect in the first version of this story.