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‘It’s really the right place’: Boise City Council finds compromise in approval of airport-area industrial parcels

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Compromise ruled the day at Boise City Council this week. 

On Tuesday evening, all six council members voted in favor of the Boise Airport’s proposal to rezone 75 acres of agricultural land near Gowen Road to make way for development into an industrial park. What was missing from the rezoning, however, was an earlier pitch to rezone another 75 acres of land currently zoned for “permanent open space” directly adjacent to the Indian Lakes subdivision. 

Neighbors in Indian Lakes started fighting the rezone of the permanent open space parcel as soon as they got wind of the industrial park proposal the Boise Airport aimed to develop with Adler Industrial earlier this year. The Planning & Zoning Commission declined to recommend approval for rezoning the open space parcels, and Mayor Lauren McLean announced a pause on the application. The airport then opted to shrink its proposal and only put the parcels down the hill from Indian Lakes up for a rezone. 

Airport Director Rebecca Hupp said the 75 acres included in the application are anticipated to have three buildings with 695,000, 409,000, and 325,000 square feet, respectively. She said the airport would be “more fully assess(ing)” how to use any land the airport owns marked for permanent open space preservation in the future. 

“I think this is consistent with the city’s energy goals because it allows us to develop property closer into our city, as opposed to pushing development to the outer reaches instead of into the suburbs or into existing farmland, which produces more emissions and more trips so this is very compatible with the City of Boise’s sustainability initiatives,” Hupp told the city council. 

It is unknown what businesses will be located in the industrial park, but the zoning allows light manufacturing, warehousing, and storage. Heavy industry or trucking terminals will not be permitted. 

Neighbors still concerned about the future

Several residents of the area testified to Boise City Council, expressing appreciation for the city taking their concerns into consideration and shrinking the proposal, but they have long-term worries. 

All 150 acres initially considered for the industrial park, including those next to Indian Lakes zoned for permanent open space preservation, are marked industrial on the city’s comprehensive plan. This means light industrial is what the city anticipates the land to turn into down the line. 

Aimee Russell, a resident of Indian Lakes, said she wants to see a permanent change to the comprehensive plan so the area can stay a permanent open space to protect the environment and for residents to enjoy.

“I’m concerned we’re delaying this to deal with another day,” she told the city council. 

South Cole Neighborhood Association President Estee Lafrenz also testified at the meeting, where she expressed concern about how increased development in the area could continue to impact aquifer recharge for homeowners with wells. 

A concept plan for three buildings proposed for 75 acres near the Boise Airport. Courtesy of the city of Boise

“Some people have been without water since April, and they’re using the hoses of their neighbors to fill up buckets so they can flush their toilets,” Lafrenz said. “These wells are drying up because they’re paving over a lot of the farmland in SW Boise that would allow the rainwater to infiltrate into the ground and replenish that aquifer.”

As BoiseDev reported last summer, residents with wells penetrating less than 100 feet into the ground are especially vulnerable to losing their water as irrigation ditches are lined, and development continues to boom in the once rural area. Ada County is considering using some of its American Rescue Plan Act funds to match with a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to help lessen the cost of homes on wells to get on Veolia’s water system, but that project is still under consideration. 

‘It’s really the right place’

City council members unanimously approved the rezone and new industrial park, noting its location near both the Boise Airport and close to where Boiseans live makes it an ideal project. 

City Council Member Patrick Bageant said putting industrial types of jobs near workers will help fight expensive sprawl into the more remote parts of the Treasure Valley. 

“It’s really the right place,” he said. “The alternative is more sprawl into the desert and more sprawl into the open spaces. It’s sprawl that could potentially affect pepper grass and sprawl that could potentially ruin the pronghorn habitat that’s out there. It’s sprawl that could drain more of the aquifer further from our city, so tying this kind of developing into the airport that needs it in a place that’s so acceptable for traffic…is really the right place for it in my mind.”

City Council Member Luci Willits told neighbors she understands their feelings of uncertainty about the industrial park and the future of the open space land, noting they are now having to “go on faith” and trust the city. She encouraged the airport to keep the dialogue open as things progress. 

“I hope the airport will take the opportunity to continue to communicate so your voices are heard, and you have our email addresses so if something happens, we can be aware of it, but at this point, the major piece of this (project) that was such a driver of worry and angst is off the table,” she said. “We’re going to be asking the airport to be as communicative as possible every step of the way.”

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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