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Skyline Submits Application for The cliffs

Area of Impact Extension may give Boise a voice in the fate of Hammer Flat; tribes raise concern over ancestral remains

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Last week, Skyline Development Inc. submitted an application to Ada County for construction of a 1,400-home planned community called The Cliffs in the area east of Boise known as Hammer Flat. The application was presented just one day prior to Boise City Council's unanimous vote to expand the city's area of impact to include 1,497 acres of Hammer Flat.

As the city and county will now begin the process of negotiations for extending the area of impact, the developer's application will be checked for completeness by county staff. "Ada County's Planned Community Development Ordinance is a very strict set of guidelines that developers must adhere to. As part of our process, we won't even begin to deem an application complete and ready for formal review until we have checked to make sure all elements of the application are there," remarked Gerri Armstrong, Ada County Planning and Development Services Director.

If negotiations to expand the area of impact are complete before the county formally accepts Skyline's application, the city may have a place at the table in making decisions about developing Hammer Flat.

The 400-page application for development of the property located north of Highway 21 near Lucky Peak Reservoir includes measures for habitat improvement and traffic management. The developer's proposal outlines plans for a self-sufficient community, complete with a grocery store, elementary school and onsite recreational facilities.

Last Wednesday, Boise City Council held a hearing on whether or not to expand the city's area of impact to include Hammer Flat. Michael Miller, an avid local hunter, testified that he approves of the expansion. "Clearly, any development that occurs in Hammer Flat will impact the city of Boise," he said.

If the city's area of impact is successfully extended, the county will be obligated to involve the city in decision-making for the area. That point could prove significant, since the city's comprehensive plan incorporates conservation measures outlined in the Foothills Policy Plan developed in 1997. At the public hearing, city staff pointed out that those protections will be relevant only under city jurisdiction. "If this comes into the city, all of our foothills plans and ordinances will apply," explained city staffer Bruce Eggleston during the hearing. "The county has no foothills plan that means anything to them."

That's why conservationists, nearby residents and many Native Americans at the hearing called for extending the city's area of impact to include Hammer Flat. Although development could still occur if the area is expanded, many present at Wednesday's hearing expressed opinions that Boise City could do a better job of preserving the area under the foothills policies. "I believe the city would be a much more appropriate administrator of this land," said Boise resident Eileen Thuesen.

If Ada County had adopted the foothills policy plan several years ago when the policies were finalized, the plan's measures for protecting the aesthetic, recreational and environmental values of the foothills would apply to Hammer Flat. Although the county participated in the multi-year process of developing the foothills plan, it never incorporated the policies into the county comprehensive plan.

"When that didn't happen, it became clear that there were parts of those policies that were not going to be enforced if the city didn't take a proactive stance," said Boise City Councilwoman Elaine Clegg. "This is an opportunity to take a look at being proactive again, to make sure all that work doesn't go down the drain."

Suki Molina of the Idaho Conservation League expressed similar concerns. "It's been eight years since the passage of the foothills policy plan and the county has not put the plan in place. I believe we would not be here tonight if the county had adopted the foothills policy plan."

At Wednesday's hearing and the January 19 hearing, members of Native American tribes expressed objections to any development of Hammer Flat. The plateau is the ancestral territory of the Shoshone-Bannock, Shoshone-Paiute, and the Burns-Paiute tribes. Ancestral remains have been identified near Hammer Flat, and the tribes still express a deep connection to the place. "The area of impact, whether it be in the city jurisdiction or the county jurisdiction, they still need to take into consideration the people that lived there, the people's history there," said Carolyn Boyer-Smith of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes.

The tribes were not contacted by the developers prior to the January 19 hearing to discuss any potential construction of the area, noted Boise resident Tracy Boyle. "[The developers] have been saying how open and honest they are. If they were such good neighbors, why wouldn't they have talked to the Native Americans about their concerns?"

Boyle, who lives adjacent to the developer's property, says her 8-year old daughter loves to watch the wildlife near her home. "I encourage you all to go out there and look at it," she said to the city council members. "It's not just a yellow dot on the map. It's the symbol of Idaho."

To which City Councilman Vern Bisterfeldt replied that he had been to the area numerous times. He emphasized that the purpose of the area of impact expansion was multi-faceted. "We are trying to negotiate the expansion of the area of impact at this time to protect that area. What we're trying to do is have a say in it, not to grab at it."

To get the developer's side of this story, visit www.thecliffsidaho.com. To get the opposition's side, visit www.savetheplateau.org. To ask a question or to comment on this article, e-mail news@boiseweekly.com.

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