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Boise looks at changes to plan for E. Boise park as construction costs rise

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Rapidly rising construction costs are throwing a wrench in the city’s plans for Alta Harris Park. 

The City of Boise has had its eye on building its newest addition to the Ribbon of Jewels Park in the Southeast corner of the city for several years. Alta Harris Park, named after the matriarch of the ranch-turned-residential subdivison Harris Family, is located on 20 acres northeast of Barber Park. Everything was chugging along smoothly to break ground soon, but now the eye-popping price tag of the project is leaving the city wondering how to fund it and switching up the game plan. 

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The combination of supply chain issues, a tight labor market, and increased costs for construction materials is pushing many city projects over budget. When Alta Harris was on the city’s 2016 capital improvement plan, the city estimated it would cost $1.8 million to put down grass, install an irrigation system, a restroom, and some trees. But when the city put the project out for bid in 2020, those same improvements came in at a cost of $3 million. 

To handle the price jump, the City of Boise is considering greening up the park with a few amenities and using other funds to build a micro park at an undetermined site south of the Boise River. Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway said this would help get more households within the city’s goal of having every resident within a ten-minute walk to a park while the city works with outside funding sources to find more money to fully build out Alta Harris. 

“I think what the council is looking at, is ‘hey can we spread out some of the park amenities and get a better focus on our goal to have every household within a ten-minute walk of a park’,” Holloway said. “We want to see if there is an opportunity to do the green-up at Alta Harris and also construct (a smaller park) at the same time.”

Steep impact fees needed to cover full cost 

The major way the City of Boise pays for new parks, like Alta Harris, is through impact fees paid by developers. 

These fees, which are levied on new construction depending on the type of project, aim to cover the costs of new growth on city services. Boise splits the city up into different regions and collects fees from projects in each region for projects in that area, on top of regional fees charged throughout the city for larger parks and the extensions of the Greenbelt. 

Under state statute, cities must develop a capital improvement plan and set their impact fee levels at least every five years. The last plan was adopted in 2016, so the city is due for a new one in early 2022. To set the impact fee amounts, the City of Boise decides what projects in each area it would like to complete, estimates their cost, how much development in an area is expected and calculates how much the impact fees need to be in order to cover as close to 100% of the cost of growth as possible. 

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Boise Budget Division Supervisor Travis Black crunched the impact fee numbers it would take to pay for the full $4.8 million build-out of Alta Harris Park with amenities for the upcoming update to the impact fee plan and it came out to be the highest local impact fee of all the city’s districts. The combination of slower growth in Southeast Boise than other areas of the city and the high cost of the project meant local impact fees would have been hiked roughly $1,000 to $1,511 per person to pay for the whole vision. 

On again, off again

With the steep price tag in mind and uncertainties about how the cost would be covered, Black decided a pause was in order. 

Black presented a shake-up to the proposed impact fee plan to Development Impact Fee Committee in November with all of the local impact fees removed from Southeast Boise. This would mean developers in the area would only collect have to pay enough fees to collect $1.2 million in regional fees, which would be used for upgrades to the Alta Harris parking lot and an underpass beneath Eckert Road to better connect the Greenbelt to the future park. 

Several committee members were not pumped about the idea. A few members, and Parks Superintendent Jennifer Tomlinson, pointed out that if the city opted not to collect impact fees for a year while it waited to sort out the plan of action the city would miss out on collecting a hefty chunk of impact fees from the several hundred apartment buildings going up in Harris Ranch in coming months. 

These apartments represent the bulk of development expected in the coming few years, meaning a delay would leave a lot of cash for the park on the table. Committee Member Colleen Fellows said it would also inadvertently allow some developers a free pass, while making others pay.

The developers of the apartments coming online would have to pay the impact fees.

“That would set a precedent we don’t want to set and other areas of the community would be upset at one area not having to do what they’ve done (to get a park built),” Fellows said. 

The committee opted to put the local impact fees back into the proposed plan. Black said although he made the decision in a move to not over-tax developers and potential homebuyers with high impact fees, missing out on collecting them could cost the city in the long run. 

“That period could account for half of your growth for the next ten years and you’d be missing out, even though you would be trying to come up with the most justifiable number,” Black told BoiseDev in an interview later. “They brought up that although by doing that from an accounting perspective might be conservative, I was making a poor decision so we put it back in.”

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Other potential funding sources, shifted plans

Now, instead of opting for the full $4.8 million Black told the city council at the end of November the plan is to scale back the master plan for the park so a slightly lower amount can be collected to bring the local impact fees down to roughly $1,000 per estimated resident. This would still be roughly double what the impact fees are now, but it would bring it more in line with the fees charged in other regions of the city. 

The original plan when the Harris Family conveyed the park to the city was for a $600,000 contribution from the Harris Family and $160,000 from the Southwest Idaho Soccer League to help get the project over the finish line. The Harris Ranch Community Infrastructure District, which collects extra taxes to pay for the cost of improvements, paid the Harris Family $1.6 million for the park property in 2018.

Holloway said the city is still in talks with the Harris Family, SISL, and a pickleball organization to help pay for amenities at the park, but a consensus on how much and what amenities would be funded hasn’t been reached yet. 

City Council Member Holli Woodings said it’s important to keep in mind when balancing impact fees that every additional cost a developer incurs, they will pass it on to the renter or homebuyer. She said the city should evaluate all funding sources when possible, including the possibility of a mix of capital funds with impact fees to make sure projects get done while not putting too much pressure on one funding strategy. 

“When we’re looking at things like workforce housing even $5,000 will price out folks buying a new home,” Woodings told BoiseDev in an interview. “I’m looking for a balance between making sure that new residents get the right level of service, making sure growth pays for itself, and also recognizing that there are many people in the City of Boise where these projects will greatly enhance their park experience.”

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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