Boise City Council is looking to lock in legal protections for the city’s parks and open spaces.
This week, council members started discussing a new ordinance that would put restrictions on the city’s 103 park sites and 14 open space reserves to ensure they remain parks in perpetuity. This comes after months of uproar over the potential development of the 160-acre Murgoitio park site in Southwest Boise and a citizens group filing early paperwork for a ballot initiative with a similar goal.
Council members heard a presentation from Boise Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway on Tuesday about ongoing work to study the deeds and other paperwork of the city’s 103 park sites and 14 open space reserves. He said after the initial round of research there is nothing in the deeds that prohibits further legal protections to keep them parks in perpetuity.
“We found nothing in our files that would prohibit you from providing additional protections for these parks and open spaces as we move into future generations,” Holloway told the council.
Dozens of parks already protected
In the coming months, city legal staff will bring a range of options for the city council to review that would bind future city councils to keeping the properties as parks. So far, 35 of the city’s park sites and six of the open space reserves already have written deed restrictions or donation agreements requiring they stay parks or the property will be reverted back to the family who donated the land to the city.
The list of parks already with protections did not include any of the city’s unimproved park sites, including:
- Syringa (FY 2028)
- Pierce Park (2024)
- Sue Howell (2030)
- Alta Harris (2025)
- Spaulding Ranch (2023)
- Gary Lane (TBD)
- Unimproved portion of Borah Park (2026)
- McDevitt (2026)
- Unimproved portion of Liberty Park (TBD, depends on an estate)
- Warm Springs (2024)
Holloway did not discuss park sites that lie outside of city limits, including the Murgoitio site or Pearl Jensen.
The protections the city is exploring are likely more rigorous than an ordinance, which can be undone by any city council later.
Last month, Boise Working Together, which filed the successful ballot initiatives on the stadium and the library in 2019, turned in paperwork to start a process to put a proposed ordinance on the ballot in 2023 asking if the public would like to have a vote anytime the city proposes the “sale, trade, gift or change in use” of a park property or open space. This would be an ordinance, which could be overturned by any city council later unlike a legal deed restriction on a piece of park property.
Green light from council members, but with flexibility
City Council members supported of the idea, but with the caveat that the city would have some flexibility if necessary. City Council Member Patrick Bageant said the city should use this ordinance to show that the city would like its parks to stay parks forever, but leave room for some flexibility in case the city’s needs drastically change.
“At a high level, whatever protections we put in place probably shouldn’t be blanket identical for every parcel and they should recognize that the needs of Boise in 200 years might conflict with keeping one particular acre open,” Bageant said. “I’m not sure if that’s legally possible, but my view at a high level should be that anything we do should make it very, very, very difficult to unwind an open space type protection, but we shouldn’t set the expectation that it couldn’t ever possibly be done.”
City Council President Elaine Clegg agreed, noting that she didn’t want any of these protections to prevent the city from having the flexibility of building a city facility on a small portion of a park property down the road. She also said it should leave open the possibility for trading parcels in case a particular park site doesn’t work anyone, but another comparably sized piece of land would.
“We have for many years talked about co-locating other city services at certain park sites, fire stations, police substations, maybe even in the future you’d think of a branch library,” she said. “I don’t know for sure, but I would not want to foreclose the opportunity to do something that will provide better and more efficient and serendipitous service to our residents because we have so tightly tied down what we can do with that site.”