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‘Very Intentional’: Final phase of Zoning Code rewrite proposal shakes up development approval, review process

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The third and final section of the City of Boise’s proposal to rewrite the city’s zoning code from the bottom up is set to be released to the public next week. 

On Tuesday, Planning & Development Director Tim Keane gave an update to Boise City Council about the latest work on the long-running effort to revamp the city’s zoning laws. For the third and final module, the big focus is on the process for how development projects are reviewed, who approves them and new steps to ensure every department of the city, or other government agencies are reviewing projects. 

Keane said changing the processes in the zoning code, instead of just what types of projects can be built where, will help the city achieve the kinds of projects it wants built in the growing city while also increasing input early on to try and prevent conflict. 

“We have a quite old zoning ordinance and it’s been amended hundreds of times since it was originally adopted and this was our chance to refresh everything and make it more predictable and consistent,” Keane said. “And that we have better coordination of all who touch a proposal.”

The entire proposal is expected to be complete and set for public hearings early next year. If you’d like to learn more about the zoning code rewrite or give feedback on the proposal, go here

Not all applications treated the same 

One of the big changes to the approval process is classifying applications based on the kind of project. 

Keane proposes creating four different types of projects in Boise, which will have four different applications for approval. Type 1 and Type 2 applications that are allowed by right or are minor projects can be approved internally, either with a simple review by staff or a more complex administrative review for projects like an ADU, allowed uses or a duplex/triplex or fourplex in an area it’s allowed to be constructed. 

Type 3 and Type 4 projects would require a public review, either by city council or by a commission specifically focused on this issue. Type 3 projects include a major expansion of a non-conforming use, a more involved hillside development permit or a certificate of appropriateness to build in a historic district. Type 4 projects, which would be automatically reviewed by city council would be for rezones, annexations and subdivisions. 

But, even in these categories, not all projects are created equal. Projects will be classified based on whether their form is allowed, or if it’s an alternative design. An example of this is if a developer would like to build in a Mixed-Use 3 zone along State Street or Fairview Avenue that have robust public transportation and they want to build a five story, urban style building, it would be considered a type 2 project and not need a public hearing. This is because the type of building the developer would like to build, not just what the building would be used for, is the type of construction the city would like in this area. 

On the other hand, a developer who would like to build a project that’s technically allowed in this mixed-use zone, but is not considered ideal for the zoning would have to go through a public review as a Type 3 project and be reviewed by the Planning & Zoning Commission or through the soon to be renamed Design Review Commission. An example of this kind of situation would be if a developer would like to build a one or two-story, suburban-style development in a Mixed-Use Zone right on State Street. 

Another change is how appeals work. If a project is a Type 2 project, it can be appealed to an internal hearing examiner to review the process, instead of kicking every project someone appeals to Planning & Zoning and up through City Council. This would be a new position and process. Keane also would like to elevate the Design Review Committee to become the Design Review Commission, so if someone appeals a decision from that committee it will go directly to City Council instead of having to make a stop at Planning & Zoning first. 

“If you submit an application today, there’s a lot of unpredictability about what’s going to happen because there’s not a thought-through set of processes associated with the nature of the application,” Keane said. “You can end up appealed multiple times over small things, which you see, or big things. What we’re trying to do is design something that is considerate with the types of applications we’re getting so you get an efficient process and a greater speed and a consistent speed.”

Multiple reviews at different points in the process

Right now, if you would like to develop something in the City of Boise you get feedback at the beginning of the design process and at the very end.

Instead of reviewing applications early in the process at a pre-application meeting where a developer learns what the approval process will look like and then a staff report after an application is turned in, Keane would like to add several other layers of approval and feedback into the process. 

His proposal would be to require developers to come to a pre-application meeting with a design that meets a set of standards first before heading to a required neighborhood meeting. Then, developers will be required to submit a summary of the neighborhood meeting to planning staff and have the city conduct an interdepartmental review of the application. This type of review would be beyond a single planner examining a proposal and would bring in feedback from departments across the city and potentially other agencies, like the Ada County Highway District or irrigation districts to have a conversation about potential changes. 

“It’s trying to be very intentional about a process where you can work through these issues with neighborhoods at a point where it’s not too late, but it’s not too early,” he said. “And then you get that multiagency review such that the application that is submitted reflects all of this feedback from neighborhoods and all the city staff that should be reviewing this.”

From there, the application would be 100% complete, turned in and get a staff report recommending whether it should be approved or not. 

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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