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Boise Council Unanimously Approves Controversial Highlands Subdivision

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It was the last chance for both sides to state their cases on Highlands Cove, a 60-home subdivision proposed for the Highlands between the end of 15th Street and Braemere Road.

Developers went first during the Dec. 1 hearing before the Boise City Council, laying out the reasons why they believed the September denial of their application by Planning and Zoning commissioners was "unlawful, arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion." 

"[The commission] said this project would place a burden on transportation and other public facilities," said Deborah Nelson, an attorney from Givens Pursley, the firm representing the developers. "What other public facilities? The commission ignored comments from ACHD, the school district, the fire department and other city agencies that said this development would be acceptable. The commission didn't even consider ACHD's proposed solutions to traffic mitigation."

The subdivision would add an estimated 600 vehicle trips per day to the Highlands. Still, Nelson said the commission didn't present any evidence barring development on the land.

"If hours of public testimony can stop development, then no in-fill can ever occur," she said. "The reality is, if the city doesn't take the land, there will be development on it. ... The neighbors have come to think of this open space as their open space, not undeveloped property. This property has had zoning for 73 lots for more than 15 years."



Around 200 people attended the meeting, with more than a few determined to voice opposition to the project. 

Nearly 200 people packed into the city council meeting on Dec. 1, most to argue against the proposed development in the Highlands. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Nearly 200 people packed into the city council meeting on Dec. 1, most to argue against the proposed development in the Highlands.
Philippe Masser, president of the Highlands Neighborhood Association, said in the mid-1990s, ACHD stated 23 more homes would be the most that could be added to the Highlands neighborhoods, given the roads, which are steep, narrow, curvy, full of blind corners. There aren't any sidewalks and streets often lead to invisible driveways.

"[Building here] is complicated, but it's doable," Masser said. "There are foothills developments that have been approved under these ordinances. The part that the developers have kept as open space is only open space because it's too steep to build on. It only has trees."

Signs placed along Harrison Boulevard and the North End reminded people about last night's city council meeting. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Signs placed along Harrison Boulevard and the North End reminded people about last night's city council meeting.
Public testimony lasted for the next several hours, most of it focused on concerns about traffic and the safety of pedestrians, children and bicyclists who live in the area. Other speakers opposed the project based on foothills conservation and the potential for overcrowding at Highlands Elementary.

There was a stronger showing of support for the development than at past public hearings but still only made up a small fraction of the testimony.

"The way I see it, we have two options," said one attendee. "We can live in NIMBY [Not In My Backyard] fear, or we can work with the developer to allow 60 more people to live in this beautiful area."

Other proponents testified they were anxious to see more connectivity between roads in the Highlands; one said if no more new construction takes place in the North End, people who want to live in new homes will have to move to Eagle and Meridian, taking their property taxes with them.

Courtney LeHosit testified in favor of the development, saying she wasn't concerned about growing traffic.

"I am excited to live in a place where my young daughter, Penelope, can walk to Highlands Elementary everyday," she said. 

Her comments were met with jeers and snickers from the crowd, which Mayor Dave Bieter tamped down with a glare and a reminder to be respectful.

Nonetheless, when the opposition let loose, the sentiment was overwhelmingly against the development. At least two people cried at the podium while talking about their children being in danger from cars on the dark and icy walk to school.

"Let me tell you what happens on a typical Friday," one resident testified. "That road is 26 feet wide. Every Friday, people roll their 3-foot trash cans to the curb, and now the road is 20 feet wide. The trash comes at the same time as the morning commute, the same time as the landscape trailers pull in and when the kids walk to school. There is then 18 inches between the garbage truck and the kids. Look to the person sitting beside you. That's probably more than 18 inches. And soon, it will be 18 inches between the dump truck full of dirt for this construction project and the kids."

She went on to say her son had been hit by a car while riding his bike to school only a few months ago.

"[He] wants to ride his bike to school, but he can't," she said. "I believe the only people experiencing good from the development is the developers and 60 homeowners."

"We're not NIMBYs," said another opponent. "The roads are too narrow, and they don't have sidewalks. It's putting a direct threat to these families. It's wrong. It's wrong. It doesn't make sense and that's why there's so much passion in this room. This infrastructure is inadequate. It's like Whack-A-Mole with these kids darting out in front of cars to get to school."

The Boise City Council approved sixty houses to be built on this land, adding potentially 600 more car trips per day in the Highlands. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • The Boise City Council approved sixty houses to be built on this land, adding potentially 600 more car trips per day in the Highlands.
Over and over, those testifying against the development referred to a Bieter catch phrase.

"You say you want to make this 'the most livable city in the country,' but this goes against all those goals," one opponent said. 

Bieter caught on after awhile, and told the crowd he was glad to hear people absorbing the phrase.

"I've never had me quoted back to me as much as I have tonight, and I know some of you were trying to beat me over the head with it, but it's cool to hear," Bieter said.

After more than four hours of testimony, council members went into deliberation. A few minutes before midnight, they voted unanimously in favor of the development and overturned the Planning and Zoning Commission's decision.

Council President Maryanne Jordan said the commission didn't have any evidence to support P&Z's denial of the application. Councilwomen Elaine Clegg and Lauren McLean added amendments to the motion, stating further traffic analysis needs to happen and the Highland Cove developers will not be allowed to realign a segment of Sunset Peak Road—also known as the Eighth Street extension—to build three more houses. Councilman Scot Ludwig called it a "first-class project" and Councilman Ben Quintana echoed the support. 

"It's a good problem that we have, that a lot of people want to live in Boise," Councilman TJ Thomson said.

Bieter wrapped up with his usual good humor.

"Now somebody call Pengilly's, and see if they'll stay open a little bit later," Bieter said.