Garden City and ACHD’s legal battles over salt shed wage on. Jury trial scheduled for 2023


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The City of Garden City and the Ada County Highway District’s feud over the salt shed on Adams Street is far from over and done. 

Over the last year and a half, ACHD and Garden City have been at an impasse over the fate of the multi-story salt shed covering a pile of sand, salt, and other materials at the highway district’s maintenance yard. Garden City calls the structure “overwhelming” and wants it to go, while ACHD says its central location is essential to the highway district’s winter operations, and covering the salt pile is required by federal environmental regulations. 

This might sound like a relatively low-stakes dispute, but so far it’s spiraled into multiple votes at Garden City council, an attempt at a piece of legislation in last year’s legislative session, and four separate cases in District Court between the two local governments. Two of the four related cases are still awaiting a judge’s ruling. 

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

ACHD announced plans to relocate the maintenance yard, and the salt shed, to Apple Street in Southeast Boise last year, but the highway district says the move is still “several years out.” 

So far, ACHD has spent roughly $244,000 on legal bills from outside law firms Givens Pursley and Holland and Hart in its long-running dispute with Garden City over the shed. Garden City used its City Attorney Charlie Wadams for all of its actions so this did not come to any extra cost for taxpayers. 

Let’s start from the beginning

This fight goes back to 2018. 

ACHD requested approval from Garden City to put up the shed covering their pile of salt and sand to protect it from the elements after the major snowstorms over the course of the 2016-2017 winter season. Garden City granted a conditional use permit for the salt shed, but only for three years with the understanding ACHD would either remove the salt shed or relocate this part of the operation elsewhere before it expired.

Then, the permit crept closer to its June 2021 end date, and Garden City wanted the shed gone, but ACHD was not ready to move. While Garden City officials say allowing the shed after the 2016-17 storms was an expansion of what their zoning code allows, ACHD vehemently disagrees. They say the shed should be allowed because of the years of precedent from ACHD operating a maintenance yard out of Adams Street for fifty years. 

The matter hit the courts for the first time in 2020 when ACHD sued Garden City after city council declined to give them a one-year extension on the conditional use permit for the salt shed. The lawsuit was put on hold for several months while ACHD launched an unsuccessful effort to get the Idaho Legislature to pass a bill exempting “essential facilities” from local zoning laws, but it met a swift death in the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee in 2021. 

After the legislature chose not to pass ACHD’s legislation, the lawsuit started back up again in July 2021. Garden City tried to get ACHD’s request for judicial review dismissed, but their request was denied when it came out in court that the city could not produce a transcript or recording of their meetings on the salt shed. This meant the matter was sent back to Garden City to decide again. 

Is ACHD’s entire Garden City maintenance yard illegal?

This issue has now ballooned out further from just the salt shed. Now, there is a dispute over the legality of the entire maintenance yard itself. 

Garden City told BoiseDev its records reflect ACHD never got an entitlement, or approval, from the city to build its maintenance and operations facility on Adams Street in the 1970s at all. The only records the city has about approvals for ACHD’s ability to operate on the land is an entitlement for the operations division, which would be for office buildings and not a maintenance yard. 

ACHD heavily disputes this. In an emailed response to BoiseDev’s questions about the maintenance yard entitlements, ACHD spokesperson Shandy Lam said an article suggesting the highway district doesn’t have entitlements to the property would be “misleading.” Instead, the highway district says Garden City is failing to acknowledge the decades-long history of heavy industrial use from Davis Meat packing plant on the site, which included a blood pond. 

ACHD says when that history is considered, the maintenance yard should be classified as a “legal non-conforming use,” or in other words, be grandfathered in and allowed to continue for however long ACHD would like it there. 

“Appropriate uses for the property are not determined by what is ‘on file’ when it comes to nonconforming uses, but rather the determination is made based on the historical uses of the property and the temporal implementation of zoning ordinances that may conflict with that use,” Lam wrote in the email. “ACHD has conducted the extensive historical and legal research to determine that its current use of the Adams Street maintenance yard is long-standing and permissible.”

ACHD decided to make its case to Garden City that the entire maintenance yard, and the salt shed along with it, be granted as a legal nonconforming use in mid-2021, which would have effectively resolved the salt shed fight. However, Garden City didn’t accept the argument and declined their request. 

In her decision letter, Garden City’s Development Services Director Jenah Thornborrow told ACHD her review of the zoning documents for the maintenance yard included references to the parcel being “adjoining Davis Pack,” not the location of the meatpacking plant itself.

“Industrial use was not an existing nonconforming use on the subject property in 1970 because there is no evidence of industrial use on the subject property in 1970,” she wrote.

The highway district even disputes that they filed an application for a legal non-conforming use at all, even though they did go through the city’s process to file the proper paperwork for this distinction. In a June 15 2021 letter, ACHD’s lawyer Gary Allen, from Givens Pursley, told Garden City that the highway district being asked to apply for a legal non-conforming use “exceeds (the city’s) authority,” but they are going to follow their process anyway as a “good faith attempt” to solve the dispute. 

“The intent was to educate Garden City as to why the current use is permissible,” Lam wrote to BoiseDev. “Garden City refused to recognize ACHD’s use as permissible, even when ACHD asked Garden City to reconsider what ACHD believes is a poorly reasoned decision.”

Time to go back to court

With Garden City’s decision to deny their request for a legal non-conforming use for the area, ACHD filed another case in District Court looking for a judicial review of the city’s decision. 

But, the case didn’t even get a ruling from a judge because Garden City successfully made the case that legal non-conforming use decisions don’t fall under the Local Land Use Planning Act and it was dismissed. 

ACHD tried again in November, this time asking for declaratory judgment instead. This is a process where a court determines the legal relationship between two parties and their respective rights. The highway district requested a jury trial to settle the matter, which is currently scheduled for January 2023. 

Wadams, Garden City’s city attorney, told BoiseDev it might not take that long for the issue to be resolved. He declined to talk further about the case due to the pending jury trial. 

“There are ongoing settlement negotiations, pursuant to Idaho Rule of Evidence 408, between representatives of ACHD and Garden City, regarding the case that is scheduled for jury trial,” Wadams told BoiseDev in an email. 

And then there’s the public records….

The legality of the salt shed wasn’t the only thing these two local governments have been feuding over. 

In April 2021, Garden City began filing a series of records requests with ACHD looking for records about the salt shed, but ACHD denied them due to ongoing litigation. Garden City filed suit in District Court against the highway district countering that the discovery process, which allows lawyers to review internal documents while building a case, wasn’t allowed in this sort of legal dispute so a public records request should be allowed. 

The judge agreed and ordered ACHD to hand over the records in November 2021. Garden City and ACHD were in court on February 10th to determine whether ACHD will have to pay the city’s legal fees, but a judge has not reached a decision yet. 

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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