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Harris Ranch Board OKs millions worth of projects amid neighborhood opposition

The Harris Ranch Community Infrastructure District is moving ahead with using taxpayer dollars for some of the projects the developer requested reimbursement for earlier this year, but not all of them.

On Tuesday, the Harris Ranch CID Board voted unanimously to approve three projects in the Barber Valley-area development worth a total of $7.1 million to be covered by property taxes collected in the special taxing district. This comes after a group of neighbors in opposition to several projects, and the constitutionality of the district itself formed the Harris Ranch CID Taxpayers’ Association. The group sent letters to the district’s board for the past three months raising concerns about projects up for reimbursement this year and alleging there is not enough notice of the extra tax liabilities that come with buying a home in the area.

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Roughly 900 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. The CID is legally a separate entity from the City of Boise, but its three board members are City Council President Elaine Clegg and City Council members TJ Thomson and Holli Woodings.

What were the three projects?

The three projects the board considered on Tuesday include a $1.4 million payment for accrued interest on loans taken out for projects in previous years, as well as two sections of roads in townhome subdivisions with sidewalk, curb, gutter, storm drains, sewer infrastructure, and a stormwater drainage pond. The board did not take up a request for reimbursement for a conservation easement or a request from the developer for $1.9 million to compensate for the value of the land upon which roads were built. The staff report noted that Harris Ranch developer Doug Fowler removed the project from consideration.

David Hasegawa, Boise’s deputy treasurer who provides staff support for the CID, provided the board with a lengthy staff report outlining the Taxpayers’ Association’s objections to the project, the developer’s responses, and his analysis. The CID has also retained two attorneys from Givens Pursley to advise the district on this matter due to the Taxpayers’ Association’s threats to settle the matter in court.

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Hasegawa said that for a project to be reimbursable with taxpayer dollars under the CID Act, it must meet three criteria. It must have a “substantial nexus” to the district, a direct or an indirect benefit to the district, and not front the lots of individual homes.

Both road projects are located inside the Harris Ranch CID and connect major roadways in the area, which Hasegawa said meets the requirements for a “substantial nexus” and would directly impact the project.

To front or not to front, that is the question

The biggest question at issue is whether or not the roads front individual homes.

The CID Act does not directly define what it means by “fronting,” leaving the question of what meets this definition is open to interpretation. According to the staff report, this piece of criteria in the law was created to prevent taxpayer dollars from funding improvements to individual homes that would boost individual property values instead of improving the district as a whole.

The Taxpayers’ Association interprets the law generally, meaning that roads passing in front of residential homes cannot be funded through taxpayer dollars. This reading of the law would exclude more projects from being eligible for reimbursement through CIDs.

On the other hand, Fowler and his lawyer Hethe Clark interpret it differently. They say the statute should be read in the context of zoning code and other land use law because the CID is a land-use issue. And in land use matters, properties are only considered fronting each other if they are touching each other, not just within the line of sight. Clark argues there is a narrow strip of land owned and controlled by the Harris Ranch HOA separating the homes from the road project, meaning the road is not fronting the homes and can qualify for reimbursement.

Hasegawa’s staff report agreed with the developer, but he noted that the board could adopt the Taxpayers’ Association’s interpretation too if they so chose. However, if they did so, it could open up more legal questions and disqualify other projects.

“District staff notes that this interpretation leaves open the question of how much distance is required before a community improvement would not be “in front of” an individual single-family residential lot, which could lead to any number of otherwise eligible community infrastructure projects to be ineligible for purchase by the District,” the report said. “Further, it is the position of District staff that the CID Act’s exclusion of improvements fronting individual single-family residential lots should be read narrowly so as to not absolutely negate the eligibility of improvements that are explicitly defined as eligible in the CID Act.”

Vote for board members is ‘narrow in scope’

Before voting to approve the projects, board members did not offer much comment on these matters or the CID in general.

All three noted that their role on the board on Tuesday was to approve projects that qualified under the law, not to relitigate the legality of the district as a whole or other general objections raised by the Taxpayers’ Association.

“My role today is very narrow, and that is to rule whether or not the three projects presented for staff are eligible for reimbursement,” Clegg said. “Do they meet the findings necessary to meet the requirements in the CID act, and if they do, do they also meet the requirements of the development agreement which define which projects in this particular development we could reimburse?”

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the CID board approved $13.5 million, based upon unclear information provided by the City of Boise. The correct total is $7.1 million. Additionally, due to an outdated figure provided to BoiseDev, the story now notes that there are more than 900 homes in the CID, not more than 600.

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Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
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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