Avimor on the Move

SunCor lobbyists eye the legislature


While Avimor's developers wait for approval from Ada County they aren't sitting idle. Instead, SunCor, the Arizona-based development company behind the controversial planned community, is plowing ahead at a different, but familiar target: the Idaho Legislature. As they have in previous years, the proponents of the 680-home development on Highway 55 outside of Eagle are trying to subtly shift Idaho tax and bonding law. But this year, they're not alone.

The idea is this: allow developers to create what is called a "public infrastructure district," where buyers of newly built homes would pay an extra tax liability collected to help pay for roads, bridges, or any number of community projects.

"The customer is going to pay either way," said Bob Taunton, the local representative of SunCor. "It's isolating the cost of growth to the people who are going to be benefiting from it."

Once created, the districts would allow developers to issue bonds to pay for roads, sewers and other projects, instead of providing the cash for such things themselves.

SunCor's idea got through the Idaho House of Representatives last year, but barely. The concept never got a hearing before the state Senate. This year, SunCor has learned a few things. Their biggest lesson: don't go it alone. So they've built an impressive coalition of Realtors, developers, title companies and other groups with significant lobbying firepower in the Statehouse.

"You'll find, I think, a broader group of supporters," said Ken McClure, a statehouse lobbyist. His client list now includes the Idaho Growth Alternatives Coalition, an association formed solely to back the Suncor tax-district proposal. Taunton said the group was formed to allow other entities to support the concept without saying they were backing Avimor.

"This year, the bulk of developers I represent said, 'This is a good idea, let's make this happen,'" McClure said.

Heading up the SunCor legislative effort is Skip Smyser, the former Idaho lawmaker and lobbying powerhouse whose mile-long client list includes Phillip Morris USA, Cingular Wireless and local developers like those of Hidden Springs, another planned community outside Boise. Critics, however, say the bill is designed to do one thing: take a fast-growing area and make it grow faster.

"If you want to make it easier for this type of development to happen, then we'll pass this bill," said Jon Barrett, the co-director of Idaho Smart Growth, which opposes the Avimor development. "The whole point is to make it easier to develop."

The Ada County Commission is set to decide on the Avimor project at its Feb. 8 meeting.