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‘Focusing on people’: Zoning rewrite proposal shrinks parking minimums, lot sizes, adds neighborhood protections

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The City Boise is rolling out the second part of its proposal to revamp its zoning code from the ground up. 

This second piece of the proposal includes new guidelines for parking, density, development, and design standards for new development across all of Boise’s neighborhoods. These changes include a reduction in minimum lot sizes allowed, a reduction in required off-street parking spaces required, and new protections for single-family homes near multi-family projects. 

[Report: Differences between Blueprint Boise and zoning code fuel conflict]

These changes layer on top of the proposal released last year on new land uses the city is proposing in the rewrite, including consolidating zones, adding mixed-use designations, and allowing duplexes, triplexes, and townhomes on any residential parcel. 

Senior Comprehensive Planner Andrea Tuning said the goal of the rewrite is to change the city’s strategy from planning for more cars to planning for the needs of people. City officials say allowing more housing types in more neighborhoods will help more people be able to afford to live in Boise, but it will also make the city more walkable and easily accessible to people in ways other than driving. 

“I think affordable housing is a component of this, but I would rather say the zoning code is focusing on people rather than vehicles,” Tuning said. “When we talk about people that does include housing them. It can make housing more affordable in the fact that the cost of parking is very expensive and it’s not the best use of our land. If we start providing housing for people instead of housing for cars, we start making progress in a number of ways.”

The city is launching a series of in-person and virtual workshops for residents to learn more and give their feedback. You can register here. There will also be a survey available in the coming weeks.

A density shakeup

One of the most noticeable changes in this proposal is a shift in how the city considers density. 

In the current zoning code, different residential zones have certain formulas governing how many units per acre can be built there. This proposal does away with this formula completely and instead relies on design criteria, like maximum height, parking, lot sizes, and setbacks to determine what can fit on a property in a certain zone. 

This fits with the planning style called “form-based code” where what can be built where is governed by how well the project’s design fits into the neighborhood, rather than purely how many units it has. Tuning said in surveys residents talked more about how certain projects’ height and other elements did not fit into the neighborhood, as opposed to the density formulas. 

Hyde Park Boise
Boise’s Hyde Park is held up as a model by city leaders of the possibilities of future zoning changes. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

“Everyone talked about what they visually saw and felt,” Tuning said. “They didn’t necessarily care about how many units were there, they cared about how it integrated into the neighborhood. There have been a number of cases over time where we could have gotten an additional unit on the site while still meeting all of the requirements, so we said ‘Why do we have this number here when people are putting more credibility into the look and feel of the building?’” 

The proposal also shrinks the minimum lot size allowed in some zones, increasing residential density. This will not prevent single-family homes on larger lots, but only allowed developers the option to build homes on smaller parcels by right. Minimum lot sizes in R1-C zones will now be 100 feet by 40 feet in width, instead of 50 feet in width. 

Protections for neighborhoods

A section of the proposal is dedicated to reducing the impact on existing neighborhoods. 

These changes will add new standards on residential or commercial buildings built next to single-family homes. This includes a requirement for shorter buildings within 100 feet of homes to preserve sunlight and privacy and a reduction of commercial lighting within 50 feet of a home. There would also be regulations on where car-centric uses, like drive-thru windows and parking areas, can be built near single-family homes to prevent problems with noise and pollution. 

Screening landscaping and other measures will also continue to be required on projects. Tuning said the City of Boise also frequently receives complaints about dying hedges and other landscaping meant to shield neighbors’ views from higher density projects. One of the proposed changes in the rewrite would allow the city to fine developers who do not replace or maintain the landscaping required in a development agreement by the city. 

Harris Ranch Boise
Boise’s Harris Ranch neighborhood as seen from the Boise foothills. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

Right now, only projects in downtown Boise and along major corridors are required to abide by design standards from the Design Review Committee, like ensuring the projects are visually interesting and windows and doors face the street, instead of parking. The new zoning code proposal would require all projects to abide by these guidelines. 

A new code section would also be added to address the location of driveways and parking lots to reduce conflicts with pedestrians, like shared driveways limiting curb cuts, shared parking lots between buildings with enough spaces, and coordinated entry and exit points for cars. 

What about parking?

Boise Yanke lot
This block, the former home of the Boise Farmers Market, serves as surface parking. It carries a C-5 zoning. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

Another major change includes a minimum requirement for projects to provide a minimum of one, not two off-street parking spaces. 

Tuning said research shows providing parking increases the cost for projects and can take away from open spaces or additional housing on the property. She also noted that many units might include a single car garage, but would still be required to build a driveway, which yields a second space on top of street parking in front of a home. But, even if there is a new minimum requirement for parking, she doesn’t expect all builders and projects to follow these guidelines. 

“If the market is demanding that second or third car space, they will continue to build that product,” Tuning said. “However, I think a number of builders will look at that and say ‘This is near a transit line’ or ‘This is near the downtown.’ It’s reasonable to assume people will have alternative means of transportation.”

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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