Several hundred homes are about to sprout up on Boise’s southernmost boundary.
On Tuesday, Boise City Council unanimously approved a 301 unit property with a mix of single-family homes, townhouses, and apartments on 15-acres of vacant land adjacent to the Boise School District property. The developer, Ohio-based Welltower, purchased the property for $12 million from the school district last summer and now has the green light from the city to develop it into “wellness housing.”
During the hearing, neighbors decried the heavy traffic on Victory Road raised concerns about fire access to the site and the developer’s proposal to rezone the site to a higher density. But, while city council members heard their concerns about walkability in the area, they decided to approve the project in the hopes it would help the area support more public transit and commercial activity to Boise’s edge.
“It really is our job to make sure you don’t have to take ten vehicle trips per day, so every single time you want to go somewhere, you have to get in your car to do it,” City Council Member Jimmy Hallyburton said. “People are always going to have to drive in a lot of areas, but if we continue to build out areas so trips to parks, trips to the pizza shop, trips to the canal pathway, those are the things we have to be building (close to).
The property will be “highly amenitized,” with a pool, two dog parks, a clubhouse, rooftop patio, and a playground for residents. It will also include 20% more parking spots than the City of Boise requires, with 469 spots. More than half of the spaces will be underneath the apartments or in garages.
The Cole/Victory Valley Regional Transit Route, which runs to Towne Square Mall, circles the project site.
‘Lower density creates more traffic’?
Neighbors who testified are not excited about the proposal.
During the hearing, members of the South Cole Neighborhood Association argued the proposed rezone should be denied and the project go back to the drawing board. SCNA President Estee Lafrenz said the property is too dense for the already busy area and would add to gridlock and idling in the area, degrading the neighborhood’s quality of life.
“I understand our city needs affordable housing and high-density development provides one possible solution, but I don’t believe this design is appropriate for this parcel of land because of (existing traffic conditions) and the potential for even worse than worse case traffic impacts creating the potential for traffic slowdowns and idling which create air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions,” she told the city council.
Lafrenz also argued the project violates the fire code by not having proper fire access entrances to the project, and Victory Road is too overburdened by traffic to support the project, even with plans to widen it to five lanes by 2025. Both the Boise Fire Department and the Ada County Highway District signed off on Victory Flats after giving their input on the design.
Debra Nelson, an attorney working for the developer, took the opposite tack. She said building fewer housing units spread over further distances would only exacerbate Southwest Boise’s traffic problems further.
“When you spread out the housing that’s needed away from your arterials, away from your transit, and away from these great infill locations close to employment and schools, then you create more of a traffic problem,” she said. “This is a great opportunity to maximize the transit, the arterial, and the appropriate designation here.”
Council members approve project, but see area’s difficulties
Just because Victory Flats got a thumbs up doesn’t mean Victory Road isn’t congested.
During their debate before the vote, several council members said they heard the neighborhood’s complaints about the heavy traffic, lack of walkability, and other issues facing the area. Putting more density into the area might not be the short-term fix, but they argued it would help bring about a longer-term move toward a more livable neighborhood.
City Council Member Luci Willits struggled mightily with how to vote. She asked Mayor Lauren McLean if she could be the last one to say yay or nay so she could have the final seconds to make up her mind.
“I have felt so much rage on that road, but I don’t know what we do when we don’t own the roads,” Willits said. “We have a report that says go forth, we have a fire report that says go forth, and yet the neighbors who live there every day say don’t go forth. The other thing I have committed to is we let the free market help drive these things where we can, and we put safeguards in there, but I’m struggling.”
City Council President Elaine Clegg, an urban planner by trade, said this particular area is “tough” and acknowledged it had been poorly planned to prepare for growth. She noted the lack of a commercial activity center in the area, making it easier for residents to get the services they need without driving and the packed busy street.
“If we deny this and we don’t do this rezone, and this housing doesn’t happen here, there won’t be the change that you all are concerned about, and I agree you have some valid concerns, but there also won’t be the impetus to make them better over time,” she said. “There also won’t be 300 housing units to support helping this terrible housing shortage we have.”