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Boise proposes new penalties for historic preservation violations

The change would allow the city’s planning staff to enforce a six-month construction delay on projects that violate the city’s historic preservation code.
Credit: Brian Myrick / Idaho Press
Only stumps remain where trees once stood on a property at the corner of 19th and Ada streets in Boise’s North End neighborhood, Thursday, July 8, 2021.

BOISE, Idaho — After several illegal demolitions and tree removals over the last two years, the city of Boise has proposed new enforcement mechanisms for such unpermitted acts in historic preservation districts.

The primary change in city code would allow the city’s planning staff to enforce a six-month construction delay on projects that violate the city’s historic preservation code. The code regulates improvements or demolitions of both residential and commercial properties within Boise’s 10 historic districts.

Currently, the city’s planning staff has little authority to penalize violators. Historic preservation advocates recently have called for stronger enforcement of the rules, after homes in the North End and East End were demolished, or partially demolished, and 10 mature trees were removed without permits.

The ordinance would allow the city’s planning division to require a report, to identify the violations and recommend rehabilitative measures (such as planting new trees). The city’s planning director could then implement a project delay for up to six months, pending the completion of the report and following a public hearing.

Boise’s Senior Historic Preservation Planner Ted Vanegas presented the ordinance Monday to the Historic Preservation Commission.

“The desire was, and with support and direction from the mayor and City Council, to implement some language into our historic preservation code that would allow the planning division to actually have some enforcement responsibility when it comes to work being done in the district,” Vanegas said.

The current code allows the planning division to levy a $1,000 fine against a violator, but Vanegas said staff “has no control over when or how that fine is implemented,” and it’s “not enough of a deterrent,” anyway.

“Really, time, we decided was a big deterrent and we’ve heard that from contractors as well: that time is the big issue here,” he said.

One sticking point during Monday’s meeting was language in the ordinance which would allow the city’s planning director to waive the requirement of a report and hearing. The waivers were included for minor infractions that could be easily mitigated, Vanegas said.

Commissioner Ashley Molloy said she’s “very uncomfortable” with the director being the sole authority in that process.

“I’m just concerned that we're giving one person absolute power over the process, which is more of a democratic process,” she said.

Kate Henwood, co-chairwoman of North End Neighborhood Association’s Historic Preservation Committee, which has called for better enforcement, agreed with Molloy’s concerns.

“We are very pleased that the city has heard us and think(s) that the delay of work and an investigation is fair and reasonable,” Henwood said. “…it’s worth echoing the concern about this being at a single person’s discretion.”

Molloy later suggested the commission could review a monthly report on violations and request a report and hearing when warranted. Other commissioners agreed, but they ultimately chose not to recommend it be included in the ordinance because the commission already has the authority to make such a request.

Commissioners voted, 5-1, to recommend the City Council approve the ordinance. Molloy cast the sole dissenting vote.

The ordinance likely will be considered by the council in November, Vanegas said.

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