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Garden City turned down a shipping container park. Years later, a judge says it can move forward

An aspiring developer might have lost the battle for his vision of an innovative shipping container park at Garden City City Council, but he just won the war in court. 

In October 2019, Wee Boise, a development company owned by Jason Jones and his wife Kristen, filed an application to create a 6,000 square foot, multi-story development with spaces for craft brewers, artists food vendors, and living spaces out of dozens of shipping containers. He planned the concept for a property he owns at 208 E. 33rd Street, in the city’s Live Work Create District near Garden City’s 34th Street Market and Telaya Wine Company along the Boise River. 

[‘I see my error’: Garden City approves 18-story tower after initial denial]

The project, called Park 33, got the green light from Garden City’s Design Review Committee in October 2019, but it hit a major snag a month later when neighboring property owner Louis Landry appealed the project to City Council. There, council members turned down the project due to concerns with how it fit in with their vision for the area. Jones filed in court for judicial review of the decision in February 2020, hoping to change the outcome. 

Two years later, Judge Jonathan Medema in Idaho’s Fourth District Court resoundingly sided against Garden City and overturned the denial of Jones’ shipping container park. He found Garden City City Council’s decision to turn down the project for dimensional standards in the Live Work Create District, concerns over parking or failed to adhere to standards protecting the general health and welfare of the community “was not supported by substantial evidence in the record.”

Project moving ahead, but at a higher cost 

Jones told BoiseDev his company is happy to see their success in court, but the prolonged court battle cost his company hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue, lawyers fees and the delay has increased construction costs. He said because of Garden City’s actions, these extra costs will now be passed on to the small business owners who will be renting space in his project. 

“We believe the judge’s ruling expresses what we knew all along,” Jones wrote in an email. “Garden City acted arbitrarily and without cause in denying this project in 2019. We are also pleased that the Judge identified a number of deficiencies in Garden City’s process and code, and look forward to seeing the City address these issues so that other property owners are not deprived of the rightful use of their property.”

Since he filed for judicial review, Jones has since gotten approval from Garden City to build his project with a third story, doubling the residential space available. But, now that he won his court case to build his project as originally proposed, he said it leaves his team with a tough choice. Jones said he will be reviewing the design for the first iteration of the project and the newly approved one to decide how to proceed and hasn’t ruled out either option. 

The opinion siding with Jones identified multiple insufficiencies with Garden City’s denial of the shipping container park, including problems with how the rules of the Live Work Create District were interpreted, and parking requirements “so vague as to be unintelligible.”  

Charlie Wadams, Garden City’s attorney, told BoiseDev the city will not be appealing the project to the Idaho Supreme Court and the project will be allowed to move forward, either in this proposed form or in another modified version City Council approved after the initial denial. 

“The City is looking forward to a successful project,” Wadams wrote in an email to BoiseDev. 

A years-long beef

This is not Jones’ first rodeo with Garden City. 

He first moved to Garden City in 2018 and eventually started making plans to build his shipping container park around the time the metal boxes started popping up around the city as popular building materials for restaurants and bars to operate out of at the end of 2019. City Council opted to ban the containers from Garden City in February, according to the Idaho Statesman

But, he had two containers on his property in place before the ban took place that were grandfathered in. Landry, the same nearby neighbor who appealed Jones’ shipping container park to city council, filed a complaint about the shipping containers in early 2020. Jones wasn’t cited for the shipping containers, but he did get a ticket for violating an older city rule requiring a privacy fence around vehicles, dumpsters, and storage units, the Statesman reported. 

This kicked off a confrontation between Jones and the City of Garden City, who eventually told him he had 30 days to get the property into compliance or he would be hit with a misdemeanor. Jones responded by reporting over one hundred businesses for violations of the rules requiring a privacy fence and started filing records requests to see if the city treated these property owners the same way he had been treated. 

It culminated in Jones being found guilty of failing to screen his shipping containers and was ordered to remove them, along with an order that he repay Garden City back for the cost of his public defender because the judge found he could cover his own legal costs. He spent five days in the Ada County Jail. 

‘Grasping at straws’

City Council denied the project for three reasons, all of which he found were not based in the city’s code. 

First, Garden City found the project did not comply with the dimensional standards of the Live Work Create District. City Council opted to deny the project because it had too much commercial space and not enough residential living area, which went against their vision for the district as a place where people can work and live. But, the opinion said the zoning code regulations governing the district don’t say anything about having an even balance between residential and commercial space. 

“That is not an interpretation of the language of the Comprehensive Plan; it is the invention of a zoning ordinance that did not exist,” Medema wrote in his opinion. “The City’s argument strikes the court as post hoc grasping at straws.”

City council also denied the project because it did not protect the “health, safety and general welfare” because it did not have enough parking, which would force pedestrians to use a street lacking in sidewalks. The judge struck this argument down too, noting that Garden City’s zoning requirements say a project must have a parking space for every dwelling unit and this project met that criteria squarely even if Garden City questioned showed Jones would add the two parking spaces in an alleyway not yet constructed. 

“The council should not be considering such things as whether petitioner will be able to make the alleyway during a design review any more than than the Council should be considering if the Petitioner can finance its development,” the opinion said. “The question is simply if built according to design, will the property conform to the applicable zoning ordinances?”

Access to public transportation was the last problem city council had with the shipping container park. In this case too, the judge found Garden City’s requirement that the project increase accessibility to non-motorized and public modes of transportation lacking in detail. 

The opinion agreed with Jones that the area was located near the Greenbelt and within 1,000 feet of a bus stop, meaning by building residential and commercial space in this area the project was an improvement to transit-oriented development than the dirt lot currently there. 

“This is clearly “an improvement” in the “accessibility of these parcels to users of non-motorized and public transportation,” the opinion said. “If the council instead invented some other standard and denied the application for failing to meet whatever that standard was, the council erred as a matter of law.”

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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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