The Boise Planning & Zoning Commission is going to get a second look at a proposal to convert a Boise Bench assisted living facility into apartments.
On Tuesday, Boise City Council spent over an hour hearing debate on a proposal from the owner of assisted living facility Arbor Village off of Philippi Street on the Boise Bench to concert the 115-room facility into 77 units of apartments. This would not require a rezone, but simply a planned unit development approval in order to pass.
Arbor Village’s lawyer argued the project met all of the city’s criteria for a PUD and they were obligated under the law to approve their project, but the brother of one of the residents appealed the decision. He, and his legal counsel, argued the facility owner violated city policy and didn’t properly notify the residents of a planned neighborhood meeting or the public hearing. This left those residents, who would be displaced, largely out of the public input process.
Council Members unanimously voted to send the matter back to the Planning & Zoning Commission so Arbor Village could mail legal notices of the public hearing to residents and hold another public hearing on the project.
This comes at a time when social service providers are noticing an uptick in elderly people becoming homeless due to rising housing and healthcare costs. The City of Boise has also started work on a permanent supportive housing facility adjacent to Fire Station 5 specifically for those in the homeless community with medical needs.
Owner: No definite plans for change
Amanda Schaus, the attorney representing Arbor Village and its owners, told Boise City Council during the meeting the owner has not firmly decided whether or not to convert the property from assisted living to apartments at this time. When asked if there was a plan to transition current residents to new places to live, Schaus said this hasn’t been prepared yet because it’s unknown if the residents will even be displaced.
“The applicant cares about the residents,” she said in her remarks to council. “They want to do a good job. They are more than happy to provide their services and their connections to ensure their residents are taken care of. They are not going to put residents out on the street and say ‘here’s your 30-day notice.’”
She went on to argue that approving a PUD to allow this project to become apartments would be compatible with the area because it would fit in with other apartment complexes nearby, and provide housing near the Hillcrest Shopping Center’s services and public transportation. Schaus also said there is no evidence the residents, even those with dementia who can be turned away from some facilities because of the higher level of care they require, would not be able to find another place to live.
Marc Seidenfeld, the appellant and brother of one of the Arbor Village residents, disagreed. He said his brother, who has dementia, and the other residents have not been given ample opportunity to learn about Arbor Village’s potential plans for a change in use and they would struggle to relocate if they had to leave.
“I hope you are aware this is an extremely vulnerable population,” he said. “There are people in wheelchairs, people with walkers who can’t get around. Some of these people have no families. They’re not going to be able to just get up and move. I think what is going on here is unconscionable and should not be allowed.”
What qualifies as notice?
When the city hears development applications, code requires homeowners and residents in the 500-foot radius around the property are required to receive legal notice of both the neighborhood meeting about the proposal and the public hearing.
Exactly how that notice should be shared and what constitutes as a legal mailing was the topic of the night about the Arbor Village proposal.
There were large signs about the project posted on the periphery of the Arbor Village property and residents received letters from the owner describing the project in their mailboxes, but residents never received official city-sanctioned postcards from the developer describing the project and how they could provide input. This is an issue for Seidenfeld and his attorney Daniel Nevala because they say it left the neighbors reliant on the developer’s narrative about the project and downplayed the importance of the meeting.
“It’s clear to me these people didn’t have notice and their family members didn’t know about this because I’m almost certain if they had there would have been more of a response,” Navela said. “What this has the possible impact of doing is forcing these people to find a new place to live.”
City planning staff, and Schaus, said city code was satisfied for noticing because a postcard with an official notice about the project was mailed to the address of Arbor Village. In the federal mail system, which generates the city’s mailing lists for project notifications, there is only a single address for facilities like assisted living or dorm facilities, instead of a specific mailing address for each individual resident.
City Council Member Patrick Bageant and City Council President Elaine Clegg both asked some pointed questions about the mailings, and the letters sent to tenants, during the hearing.
“You sent one letter and you sent three additional letters to each resident and each one of which downplays the hearing and says ‘this will all be over at the hearing, there’s nothing here, we’re not going forward with these plans’,” Bageant said, about the full letters from Arbor Village provided to him by city staff. “You knew there were 115 people there, you didn’t tell them about it individually, and what you did tell them is ‘don’t worry about this process.’ How do I get to the conclusion (notice) was done here in a reasonable way?”
In response, Schaus said she wasn’t aware Bageant had seen the full text of the letters sent to Arbor Village residents and defended the company’s work to adequately follow city procedure and noticing requirements.
“In this case, all I can say is the management company communicated how they felt they needed to about the notices and I really have nothing else to say about that,” she said. “Everybody was aware there was a meeting and they were mailed proper notice by the code.”
City processes could change
Throughout the hearing, city council members asked multiple questions to planning staff and city attorneys about what the city’s code requires and the practical applications of issuing notice.
By the end of the meeting, there was a consensus from several council members the city needed to take a look at its policy and code for how residents of properties like Arbor Village are notified about projects even if every single occupant doesn’t have a federally recognized address.
“There’s the letter of the law, and it appears our staff followed that, but then there’s the spirit of the law and that’s saying folks have access to notice so they have the opportunity to weigh in,” Mayor Lauren McLean said. “In asking to better understand the reach of the letter of the law, I think we can start that conversation…It’s most likely a policy discussion after this where a look could be taken on how to better meet the spirt of the law when the intended notice law was written.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated how City Council Member Patrick Bageant obtained the full letters to the residents of Arbor Village. It has been corrected to reflect he obtained the letters from city staff.