Large Downtown Boise apartment complex gets OK after developers agree to cut a hole in it

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Last fall we told you about a project to build hundreds of apartments on a full city block downtown at Front St. and 12th St.

But after a series of delays, the project’s developer resubmitted the plan with a major change. Instead of taking the whole block and eliminating the current alleyway, the project would keep the alley intact.

Records posted publicly to the City of Boise’s website are not transparent in the reason for the change. The city indicated in a project memo that the project would be deferred from a design review hearing because it was “undergoing revision regarding the site layout.”

[Another large apartment project proposed for currently quiet corner of Downtown Boise]

Keeping an alley

In April, developer Alliance Residential submitted an updated set of plans that reconfigured the site from a single building to two, with the alley intact.

“You guys have alleys in Boise,” Chad Lorentz with Urbal Architecture of Seattle said during a design review hearing. “They are purely for service and for dumpsters and can be unsightly. We want to discourage that, but we do take our services off of the alley. We have our garage entry, we have some parking there – but what’s interesting about the alley is we have our courtyards looking down into it. We have two bridges that cross that are open. We have access points to encourage residents to enter from the alley to bring activity into the alley. We want to do something to ensure the alley doesn’t become a blight.”

Design review committee member Ryan Erstad asked Lorentz about the alley and the previous plan for the interior courtyard, which he called “compelling.”

Lorentz deferred to City of Boise planner Josh Wilson saying “I don’t want to be in trouble,” with a slight laugh.

“There were extensive conversations between the city and the applicant in terms of preserving the alley,” Wilson said. “We do have a deep desire to preserve alleys where they are present. They do provide a number of opportunities to take services off of the streets and keep them in the alleys and break down our blocks to the scale you see in downtown Boise with blocks bifurcated by an alley and two separate buildings. That was at the urging of the city.”

Erstad later said the reworking of the project without the alley was “counterproductive” to some of the other goals of the city, including building additional housing. Committee chair James Marsh differed, noting that the city also wants to cut down on “superblocks,” and preserving view corridors down alleys.

Cutting a corner

The chamfered corner at 13th St. and Front St. on the Saratoga Apartments project. Via Urbal Architecture

The project also revamped the corner of 13th St. and Front St., with a cut corner or chamfer. The City of Boise designates that as a gateway corner and looks for heightened architectural detailing.

“We put a secondary sign and a chamfered corner,” Lorentz said. “We are trying at night to bring in this highlight of these brick items, so they see a very nice entrance, and we hope it serves as a bar to the rest of this district as it continues to develop.”

The ground floor will include retail spaces, including possible restaurants along Grove St. and 12th St. A bike shop for residents will go in along the corner of Front St. as it nears the I-184 Connector.

The project uses a light brick design with black accents and stucco. Lorentz said they were inspired by existing downtown buildings, including the Owyhee, Empire, Hoff, Borah Post Office, Idaho and Gem & Nobile buildings.

Replacing existing buildings

Several existing buildings on the property will be torn down, including the Boise Creative Center and an office building with a barbershop on the ground floor.

Alex Vega owns a business on the site and testified against the design review approval.

“I actually currently occupy the building that is where this building is proposed, and my building is set to be demolished,” Vega said. “It just really is kind of sad because I don’t know where I’ll go. There’s a lot of things I do out of this facility. I’m an artist, I build and stretch canvases and paint murals, and do custom sign work. I’m a father and this is how I provide for my kids and I don’t know where I would go. I would just hope that when any decisions come across I’ll have ample time to organize my things.”

The design review committee unanimously approved the project.

Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don is the founder and publisher of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow. Contact him at [email protected].

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