A cluster of homemade signs cropped up on 36th Street in late June. Some of them, made from king-size bedsheets, had the words "NO TO 3 LOTS" spray-painted across the linen. One of the larger sheets hung from the boughs of a large tree towering over the backyard of Adrianne Burlile's northwest Boise home, where she has lived with her husband and two children for eight years.
"This all started when we got letters in the mail with layouts of what was going to be done with the newly bought property next to us," said Burlile. "First, the property was going to be split into three lots, then two lots and then back to three lots—the one bordering us being a 'flag' lot."
Named for its shape, the flag lot would have included a long driveway next to a fence bordering the Burliles' property. The plans also indicated one of three new homes would face directly into their backyard.
Burlile said her chief concerns centered around maintaining a safe and private environment for her family, which is why she made the first "NO TO 3 LOTS" signs. The Burliles then rallied about a dozen of their neighbors to join the protest.
"Safety is a concern for everyone on our street," said Burlile. "There are several families with young children who play and ride bikes in front of the houses, and we already have a problem with traffic in the neighborhood."
Burlile said her neighbors' apprehension was due to how the newly-divided lots that developers had proposed might affect the integrity of the area. She described the neighborhood as family friendly, where residents gather to barbecue, and children and dogs play freely. Most of the original properties are located on about a quarter acre of land. Burlile said many worry that skinnier lots and smaller homes might attract renters or homeowners who may not value or maintain properties.
"Most of us on the street are friends—we hang out and take good care of our homes," she said. "We want the neighborhood to stay this way."
Rather than resulting in a lawsuit at the Ada County Courthouse or a squabble at Boise City Hall, the protest prompted the new developers to contact the residents, and those in-person communications led to a different layout for the land everyone can agree on. For example, the flag lot will be reworked as a square lot, which will give the Burliles their space and privacy.
Meanwhile, officials at City Hall said the division of large lots to accommodate higher-density neighborhoods has become a trend.
"I will say this: The cause of much of this is that Boise is really a mature city. Most neighborhoods are mature, and there really isn't a whole lot of room for new subdivisions in neighborhoods in some parts of the city," said Mike Journee, spokesperson for the city of Boise. "In some of these older neighborhoods, it has been a focus of the Boise City Council to allow for more density and to do that thoughtfully."
According to Journee, as long as developers go through the proper channels with zoning, design review and permitting—providing the construction doesn't deviate from building codes— there isn't really a process of recourse for neighbors who otherwise disagree with new development. Burlile said her neighborhood protest, which forced direct dialogue between residents and the developer, resulted in a compromise and kept the matter out of the courthouse and out of Boise City Hall.
That's good news for city officials.
"The idea is to develop neighborhoods with the goal of protecting the neighborhood and keeping its character, while at the same time creating a density for positive reasons, making neighborhoods more walkable, provide more housing and other things like that," said Journee.