Check the Blueprints

Long-term plan for Boise future nears final draft


From the corner of Boise and Broadway avenues city planners can see a mixed-use community activity center linked to Garfield Elementary School and buttressed by new pedestrian access across the busy intersection.

On the tabula rasa between South Cloverdale and South Cole roads at Boise's southwest edge, planners envision an urban village along the New York Canal where future residents can walk to the market or restaurants and access trails on federal land to the south.

And downtown, the city is confident that it is developing in the right way, but wants a more vibrant sidewalk culture and nightlife, better public transit and affordable housing.

This future vision for Boise is embedded in Blueprint Boise, an update to the city's comprehensive plan that city officials, neighborhood groups and citizen committees have been drafting for two years.

And while other multi-year plans sit on shelves, this one comes with a wholesale update to city ordinances to guide future development for the next decade or more.

"The goal of the comp plan is to make everyone have the best day possible," said city planner Tricia Nilsson, who has led the effort to update the plan.

That means your commute isn't stressful, you have a job, your kids go to a good school, you come home and can go to a park or shopping, Nilsson said.

To accomplish that goal, the plan addresses seven themes in 11 regions of the city. Along with expected themes like health and safety, transportation and orderly growth, there is a strong emphasis on arts and culture, environmental sustainability and the economy. And it's linked to regional transportation plans.

"We wanted, to the extent possible, to give as many residents in the city as possible choices in how they get around and how they live their daily lives," said City Councilor Elaine Clegg, who also works for Idaho Smart Growth.

One novel element in the plan is a commitment to urban agriculture, including identifying vacant parcels in median strips for community gardens or small farms.

"Providing opportunities for community gardens, small-scale farms, and other food production within the [impact area] will help reduce the community's reliance on outside food sources, support the local economy, promote community interaction, increase access to fresh produce, promote community health and help Boise City maintain an identity that is distinct from other communities," the plan states.

"We've had actual citizens looking for these opportunities for urban agriculture and we wanted to make sure that we didn't put barriers in their way," Nilsson said.

The blueprint also directs the city to lead the way in conservation and sustainability, including sourcing 10 percent of the electricity at city facilities from non-hydropower renewable energy sources and using native vegetation in city projects.

"I think it boldly sets direction by the city about sustainable community," said Beth Geagan, president of Sustainable Community Connection of Idaho, a group that promotes localism in the Treasure Valley.

Geagan is on a committee through the Boise Parks and Recreation to boil the comp plan goals into actual policies like more environmental education and strengthening Foothills preservation.

Art, culture and history are also addressed throughout the plan, down to the neighborhood level. The plan promotes public art and encourages the city to find ways to make cultural events affordable and accessible.

The plan also addresses basic concepts of growth and development, favoring mixed residential and commercial neighborhood centers and more dense, infill construction.

"It's this concept of there's going to be corridors in Boise where we're really going to be seeing some high density, density that Boise has never really seen before," said Brian McDevitt, president of the Southeast Neighborhood Association.

McDevitt said he's not excited to have a half-million or million people living in Boise, but should that day come, the Blueprint provides a good way to handle the growth.

McDevitt and Judy Orr, president of the Central Foothills Neighborhood Association, agree that the city reached out to all the neighborhoods and incorporated their input into the plan.

"In a sort of literary sense, I think it's a great thing," said Orr. "They actually try to seek out public opinion on these things because I think they really do care what Boise is going to look like"

But Orr is still unclear how the plan will concretely address growing traffic and new development in the Foothills neighborhoods.

Nilsson said that the blueprint is not just about showing permissible densities in different areas.

"As we grow, particularly in redeveloped areas of Boise, the form is more important than the number of units," she said.

One example of this, a change from the last comprehensive plan, which was approved in 1997, is the identification of activity centers, like the one at Boise and Broadway, Nilsson said. They are marked by large asterisks on the new planning maps and conform to a region-wide transportation plan. And under the Blueprint, many of them they have a nascent identity.

"We tried to give a name to each asterisk," Nilsson said.