Boise’s parks will soon be legally protected from development, but only those within city limits.
Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway told Boise City Council on Tuesday city legal staff is in the final stages of finalizing an ordinance putting a deed restriction on the city’s park sites, its open space reserves, the 200 miles of Ridge to Rivers trails and the 25 miles of Greenbelt.
This deed restriction would allow residents to file suit against the City of Boise in the future if the city reneges and opts to remove the legal protections requiring the property to stay a park.
This comes after months of uproar in 2021 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. That effort, led by Friends of Murgoitio Park, is still moving ahead.
The big difference between the city’s protections for its park sites and the neighbors is how it handles park spaces outside of city limits. In the city’s proposed ordinance, park sites, like the Murgoitio site, will not be protected from development unless they are annexed into city limits. However, open space reserves and trails outside of Boise will be included.
Holloway said the deed restriction will be applied to any new park properties or open space reserves the city purchases or receives as a donation in the future.
“The park section (of the ordinance) would address what we currently have, what we acquire and that during annexation any future sites that become part of the city limits would also be included,” Holloway said.
How permanent is this deed restriction?
Things get tricky when elected officials try to make rules dictating what their future successors can do.
Idaho code prohibits city councils and other officials from blocking future councils from taking specific actions. In order to get around this, Holloway said the deed restriction will be able to be removed from a park property by a future city council, but doing so would open the door to a legal challenge to block it from community members or other groups hoping to protect the park.
Holloway said city council members will get the full details in the coming days after the legal department sorts out some smaller issues with the language, including how open space in parks with easements to other agencies will be handled and definitions of amenities to be protected.
City Council Member Patrick Bageant is in support of the ordinance, but he wanted to make sure officials in the distant future have options.
“Along the lines of tying the hands of future councils, we should be humble about that,” he said. “They will be facing challenges we can’t even predict and so we don’t need to make it so punitive that we put people between a rock and a hard place. Dedesignating a park is a big deal anyway, so if they’re going down that road they’re probably facing a real challenge already.”
Ballot initiative marches ahead
Activists are hoping for their own version of protections for parks and open space on a ballot in 2023.
Last fall, activists from citizens group Boise Working Together and Friends of Murgoitio Park filed paperwork to ask voters if they would like to approve an ordinance requiring a public vote can make any changes to public land earmarked for park development. FOMP board member Estee LaFrenz told BoiseDev Wednesday she was disappointed in the city’s exclusion of park sites not yet annexed, like Murgoitio.
“All parks owned by the City of Boise should be protected,” she wrote in an email. “Since the Murgoitio Park parcel has not been annexed, it is specifically excluded from the City’s Parks and Open Space initiative. Murgoitio Park has been referenced as a park in Boise’s comprehensive plan for over 25 years and should receive the same consideration as other parks in Boise.”
Her group is still working through the lengthy process to develop a proposed ordinance to put before voters. LaFrenz said they submitted a draft ordinance written by Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, to the city’s legal department, which came back with a series of edits. After reviewing their feedback, she said her group and their attorney Brian Ertz have reworked the ordinance and will be submitting a new draft to the city with the necessary 20 signatures to start the process over again with the new language.
After this new round of paperwork is submitted, the group will once again get feedback from the city, get to submit their edited version and eventually have 180 days to collect roughly 9,000 valid signatures for the initiative to be on the ballot in November 2023. This is nearly double the number of signatures Boise Working Together was required to gather in 2019 when the group organized for the twin ballot initiatives for a public vote on the possibility of a sports park and a new library. The number of signatures required for a ballot initiative is calculated based on the turnout of the previous election. The 2019 Boise municipal election earned a higher than usual turnout with more than 43,000 ballots cast.
Ertz is the same attorney who wrote the 2019 ballot initiatives for Boise Working Together and represented the Northwest Neighborhood Association in its legal fight against the Prominence development.