Boise’s historic districts come with a laundry list of rules to follow if you’re interested in building in the neighborhoods, and now they come with stiffer penalties for violating them.
On Tuesday, Boise City Council unanimously voted to approve a new ordinance imposing a process to punish property owners who demolish historic structures or take down trees without the proper permits from the Historic Preservation Commission. This change allows the city’s planning department to enforce a six-month stop-work order on a property owner for breaking city code and potentially require rehabilitation measures to fix the problem.
This comes after several instances of illegal demolitions in several of Boise’s ten historic districts, including the demolition of homes in the East End and North End as well as the removal of several trees without permits. Frustrated neighbors and historic preservation activists cried foul and asked the city to institute a way to punish the offenders for impacting the neighborhoods without the proper permission.
Brittany Scigliano, a 2019 city council candidate, was the only member of the public to testify on the proposal. She lauded the ordinance and the collaboration between community members and the city to make it happen.
“I believe (historic preservation) should be a crucial rung in the city’s climate action plan to ensure we’re not wasting valuable resources or adding materials to the landfill unnecessarily,” she said. “Our most affordable housing comes from what we already have, not what replaces it.”
No option to pay your way out
Under the new ordinance, if city staff finds someone in violation of the ordinance the Planning Director can institute a stop-work order of up to 180 days. City staff will then prepare a report documenting all of the violations and a list of possible remedies, like replanting trees on the site. The report will go before the Historic Preservation Commission for a public hearing and approval.
The ordinance also includes a provision allowing the Planning Director to waive reports for minor items, like incorrect siding or single small trees being removed. The intent of this portion of the project is to ensure small items don’t overwhelm the commission. City staff said there are measures to ensure this won’t allow major violations to go unpunished.
Boise’s city code always had the option for a $1,000 fine to be levied for illegal demolition, but City Council Member Patrick Bageant said the city opted to go for a stop-work order instead to ensure no one could pay their way out of the punishment.
“Oftentimes for the size of these types of projects or the value of that real estate a $1000 fine may be a very trivial expense,” Bageant said. “A rational actor may cross the line, pay the fine and cause some lasting harm. The structure of this ordinance rather than imposing a uniform fine, it imposes a stop-work order which slows and delays the development, can cause all kinds of problems and is cumbersome for everybody in an equal way.”