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Indian Creek and beyond: Caldwell leaders study how and where to grow

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Last month, the city of Caldwell received a call from Astoria, Oregon.

City staff there wanted to know how to replicate the success of Caldwell’s Indian Creek Plaza, said Ofelia Morales, a Caldwell economic development specialist, at a special workshop earlier this week discussing Caldwell’s growth.

“It’s good to get those calls,” Morales said.

Caldwell leaders at Monday’s workshop, titled “City of Caldwell Growth Perspective: Reflecting on the City of Caldwell’s Growth Pattern,” spoke to the city council about positive developments in Caldwell as well as challenges facing the city.

Challenges include attracting high-wage, high-growth industries, and approving and building housing and other infrastructure to keep up with population growth.

Business leaders look for certain characteristics

A vacant lot is poised for development near a multi-family residential complex at Sky Ranch Business Center in Caldwell, Thursday, April 7, 2022. Photo: Brian Myrick/Idaho Press

Morales said Caldwell has both strengths and challenges when it comes to attracting businesses, and it has to compete against other towns in the Treasure Valley

She said business leaders looking to set up shop want specific characteristics a city can offer.

“They’re looking for logistics: highway access, rail, airport, and road infrastructure, shovel-ready land, proximity to major markets, incentives,” and “workforce and housing for their employees,” Morales said.

Another thing businesses look at is the median age of city residents. Caldwell’s median age is 31, which is younger compared to Emmett’s 39.

“That is one thing that we can say we market quite a bit because we have a workforce that’s ready to work,” Morales said.

Morales said Companies also value diversity in a community; Caldwell’s population is 38.8% Latino, which could appeal to companies like Google, Facebook, and Micron.

Those companies also want to gauge the presence of the higher education system, Morales said. This is a boon for Caldwell, as it has schools such as Treasure Valley Community College, College of Idaho, and College of Western Idaho is nearby, she said.

Despite these strengths, Caldwell faces one challenge: being outcompeted for retail business due to the city’s relatively low median income, Morales said. She said retail businesses want to set up shop where they know residents have the means to patronize them.

In Caldwell, the median income is $64,000, whereas Star’s is $72,000, and Kuna’s is over $78,000. Morales said that this difference has made courting businesses such as Café Rio, Costco, and IKEA harder. 

[2019: IKEA? Dunkin’? A crystal ball look at when the area could get some big names]

She said that business parks such as Sky Ranch are shovel-ready areas that are attractive to businesses. However, land availability is limited, she said.

“Right now, we’re already running out of industrial properties in our city,” Morales said, adding later that, “if we don’t have those business parks here, they’ll be created elsewhere,” she said.

Housing approved yesterday built today

One of the buildings in a multi-family residential complex at Sky Ranch Business Center in Caldwell, Thursday, April 7, 2022. Photo: Brian Myrick/Idaho Press

Debbie Root, a senior planner with the city, said she noticed “some hesitation” from the city council in approving housing development applications that involved “denser developments on smaller parcels.”

“We need to be clear and informed about the development process,” Root said, noting that many of the homes being built today were approved at least two years ago.

Some developments being built now were even approved in the early- to mid-2000s and received “time extensions,” Root said.

“If those developments were not in process and being able to fill in the process gaps, the city would be much further behind in housing stocks than we currently are,” she said.

Development is a long process, she said. She said that developers dedicate time to research before purchasing a property and bringing it under contract. The design and hearing process can take six months to a year, and it can take two years to start construction on an approved project. The projects are being “thoroughly vetted” from the beginning, Root said.

Denser housing, including multifamily housing, will also be key to addressing the city’s growth, she said.

“Multifamily development should occur in the city; it should occur near high-traffic roadways; it should occur where there are services available” such as medical, food, and groceries, she said.

Root asked members of the council to “keep an open mind” when considering projects that will involve smaller lots, townhomes, and other types of denser development.

If a developer has invested the time and money to bring forth a good project, then they should be able to expect due consideration from the council, she said. She said city workers, who spend time with such applications, would like this.

Infrastructure to support growth

Development in Caldwell has been record-breaking in the past two years, said City Engineer Robb MacDonald. The city has been averaging between 800 and 900 residential permits per year, which gives an indication of how many people are moving into the area, he said.

He said the goal is to get the development to pay for itself. For example, when a subdivision is being built, the developer must pay for work such as creating frontage roads and running utilities to and through the development, he said.

Historically, developers of large projects that will generate 500 or more vehicle trips per day have been required to complete projects that mitigate traffic in some way, he said. But the city is planning to move away from that model, and is planning to ask for traffic impact fees from more projects that will be used to fund transportation improvements, he said.

New development should be considered in light of the potential traffic improvements it can bring, MacDonald said. He said the city relies heavily on development to pay for such improvements.

MacDonald says he “cringes a little bit” when members of the public protest new development because it could create traffic issues or because infrastructure such as sidewalks is lacking, he said.

Caldwell Mayor Jarom Wagoner said he would be in favor of the new traffic impact fee model.

“It helps make sure that everybody’s paying into that,” not just larger developments, Wagoner said. It also would apply to new developments, meaning new residents would not be paying for it, he said.

Erin Banks Rusby - Idaho Press
Erin Banks Rusby - Idaho Presshttps://idahopress.com
Erin Banks Rusby is a reporter for the Idaho Press. You can find her on Twitter, @ErinBanksRusby

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