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Boise council candidates in district 3 talk growth, fire response

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The four Boise City Council candidates for District 3 gathered in Magnolia Park on Wednesday evening to make their case to Northwest Boise.

In front of several dozen campaign volunteers for candidate Greg MacMillan and other residents who live on the city’s semi-rural fringe, incumbent City Council President Pro Tem Lisa Sánchez, Maria Santa Cruz-Cernik, Nicholas Domeny, and MacMillan talked fire coverage, density, and growth.

[‘Look out for each other’: How close-knit NW Boise came together when fire approached]

How to fill fire gaps in NW Boise

Santa Cruz-Cernik took a firm stand in front of the crowd, calling for a moratorium on development in the area until the city finishes building a long-promised fire station in the area, earning her big cheers. She also said the city should not grant applications for rezones or variances from developers looking to add more density than is already allowed by right.

“As far as the future, we don’t know how tomorrow is going to be,” she said. “Let’s see what things are going to transpire first before we keep adding on and adding on density. We need to take it slow, and like I said before, Boise needs to grow from within and not from outside sources telling us how we should be living.”

In response to a question asking if he would vote against any development not entirely within a four-minute response time range, MacMillan told the crowd that following through on the city’s promise to build a fire station in Northwest Boise is a major priority of his. The city is currently working on finalizing a site for a station.

“In terms of making sure the resources and services are in front of a project, this gets to be a bit of a chicken and an egg type of discussion in the sense that the services provided in the city are often funded by impact fees,” he said. “It’s a balancing act between getting enough development out there in the spaces it should be and making sure the resources and services follow.”

Charity Strong, Sánchez’s campaign manager, read several responses to the questions after Sánchez had to leave early for another event. She said Sánchez would continue talking with the neighborhood and take their concerns into account.

“I’m committed to learning more about the needs of the Northwest Neighborhood Association as it pertains to adequate fire coverage and finding ways to ensure we can prevent fires in our city,” she said.

Domeny said the city should put more funds toward fire protection, particularly in Northwest Boise. He also said the city should work on different land management strategies to keep fire from spreading as quickly.

“If we were able to maintain the foothills a little better, maybe the fire wouldn’t have spread as fast this wouldn’t have been as bad. Obviously, it was terrible, and if we had more money going into the fire department and more land management stuff like this wouldn’t happen, at least to the degree that it did.”

[BoiseDev voter guide: Boise City Council]

Differing views on city’s zoning code, density

Candidates had different takes on density as the city grows.

Boise is in the midst of a move to rewrite the zoning code to replace its decades-old set of laws governing development. The proposal currently underway pitches adding more residential density throughout the city and more of a focus on mixed-use development.

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

Strong touted Sánchez’s efforts to involve a range of community voices in the zoning rewrite committee process, including Collister Neighborhood Association member Esther Ceja. She said Sánchez’s low-income upbringing gave her resourcefulness, which will help her find a compromise in the process.

“Lisa spoke of her upbringing,” Strong said, referencing Sánchez’s opening remarks about growing up in Burley. “That’s what she is. She’s scrappy. She’s going to find the third way. That’s what the zoning rewrite process is for.”

MacMillan said that as much as the city would like to shut the door on growth, it has to somehow welcome new residents. He said density is part of how the city needs to grow, as long as it’s concentrated in certain areas and not “a blanket upzone” impacting the entire city. MacMillan said there are neighborhoods in Boise that “shouldn’t be touched” due to historical value and neighborhood character.

“We need density, but we need density along corridors where we can have some transportation so people can get places,” he said. “Just sprawling out is not a good answer. Urban sprawl, putting more houses where we have open space right now, isn’t well thought out.”

Northwest Boise’s proximity to the foothills is a significant reason why Domeny said he wouldn’t support more density in the area. Instead, he said Boise should look to the areas near the airport for expansion.

“Definitely in this part of town, I don’t believe growing outwards is the right answer,” he said. “We have plenty of room on the other side closer to Gowen Road, and that is a good area to expand Boise. Expanding more out here means pushing into our beautiful foothills, and if we keep pushing out this way, we will take away part of what makes Boise so special and awesome.”

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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 margaret@boisedev.com or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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