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Boise opposes high-rise entrance on festival street. ACHD says they won’t require a change

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BoiseDev Project Tracker

The City of Boise’s objections to the design of a proposed downtown Boise high rise didn’t go over well with the Ada County Highway District.

On Wednesday, ACHD turned down an attempt from the City of Boise to appeal the design of the 19-story Ovation tower on the block between Broad and Front streets, next to the former Concordia Law School. City staff hoped ACHD would hear the city out on its concerns with the development’s main garage entry being located on Broad Street, which they argue would impact the city’s work to make Broad Street a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly “festival street.”

[As Downtown Boise’s skyline evolves, will it see a “new tallest” building?]

Under Idaho code, Boise will get to weigh in on the project in its own design review hearings, but ACHD gets to decide where the garage for vehicles to enter the project is located. Commissioners listened to Boise planner Josh Wilson’s concerns about the project before voting 4-1 to deny their right to an appeal. This effectively keeps the design as is. Because the city’s right to an appeal was denied, there was no public testimony.

Broad Street business owners object to garage location

Site plan for Ovation along Broad St. Via The Land Group

Ovation has been floated as a possibility since June, but Boise’s objections to the project are relatively recent.

Hovde Properties President Randy Guenther told ACHD his firm met with the city multiple times in 2021 to discuss the project, but it wasn’t months after the application was filed when his team learned about the city’s objection to the garage on Broad Street. He said relocating the entry to 6th Street would cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” due to how far along the developer is in the design process.

“It wasn’t until recently, August timeframe that we were informed by a member of the city staff that there was an issue now with the entrance and really we said ‘we need clarification’ and we couldn’t get a discussion,” Guenther told ACHD. “Planning staff said it’s an issue coming from the mayor’s office and we said we’d like to discuss that. We continued to ask for that discussion to understand the main issues that had to be solved and we didn’t get to have that conversation until after the appeal was filed.”

Mayor Lauren McLean’s transportation advisor Bre Brush told BoiseDev a slightly different version of events following Wednesday’s meeting. She said the city’s concerns stemmed from objections raised by nearby businesses, including The Wylder, Boise Brewing and Form & Function after Ovation’s site plans were made available to the public on the city’s website.

[Boise Brewing to expand brewery location on Broad St.]

“In attempts to enforce our own Central Addition Master Plan policies consistent with business concerns, our planning staff first had discussions with their architect team and when they sent the mayor’s office a request to meet we were very quick to respond,” Brush wrote in an email. “Simultaneously, our staff was working to resolve the access management with ACHD staff. The complexity of a communication timeline with multiple agencies and stakeholders cannot be understated, but their leadership absolutely had conversations with the city’s leadership, which is when we made it very clear that access on Broad Street would not be in the best interest of Boiseans’ vision for this street.”

BoiseDev illustration shows garage entry location. Via Eppstein Uhen Architects, Inc.

Project developer Eric Hovde told BoiseDev in June that he respected the city’s work on Broad Street. Along with the garage entrance and exit, trash and loading facilities for the building are also proposed to sit along Broad.

“We are going to do everything we can with landscaping and a whole host of things,” Hovde said. “We are trying to do (this project) on a significant corridor. We are not trying to build a high-end apartment complex and having the trash hanging out outside.”

Josh Wilson, a planner with the City of Boise, called the situation “unusual” and thanked ACHD for its assistance in working on the project. He said this site is especially complex due to the lack of an alley on this block, its proximity to the six-lane Front Street, and the investments in pedestrian infrastructure on Broad. He noted that entrance onto Broad Street was “baked in” to early plans for Ovation made available to the city in June.

“We were remiss a little bit not to push back at that point, but these are complicated conversations with a lot of stakeholders,” Wilson said.

Ovation and the city also have other issues to work out with this project as it moves through the approval process. In its application submitted over the summer, some of the streetscapes do not comply with the requirements the city has for the area.

ACHD opts to keep Broad Street entrance

Despite the City of Boise’s argument, Commissioner Dave McKinney and ACHD President Kent Goldthorpe were not swayed that the scenario met the standard to allow the city to appeal a project when they were not the applicant. McKinney further said that even if ACHD opted to hear the appeal, it is concerning for the city to try and change gears on the applicant late into its planning process.

“A major concern that has been addressed is the fact that the developer has made a substantial investment going forward for a substantial period of time planning to build this project and never now until the last minute has the city come back and said ‘oh by the way we don’t want it to be this way, we want it to be a different way’ and here we all down the road on this project,” McKinney said.

Commissioner Jim Hansen saw it differently. He argued that the city should be allowed to appeal the project due to the unique situation where ACHD’s policy conflicts with the city’s Central Addition master plan, which has been in place for roughly a decade. He also noted the understaffed planning departments at the city and ACHD and the complexity of an out-of-town developer trying to navigate earning approval from two different elected bodies, instead of just one in a traditional city.

“This is not rooted in anybody’s bad behavior, it’s not rooted in anybody’s malfeasance, it’s at the core that we have policies in place that set access to buildings regardless of what the land use activities are,” Hansen said. “…We keep saying we don’t want to do land use, but not allowing the city to move forward on a fundamental policy of the city’s land use for the Central Addition is basically saying we are vetoing the land-use position you would like to move forward.”

We’re trying to envision a city of the future and reserving Broad Street more like what is currently happening on 8th Street.

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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