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Growing up vs. growing out: Just one concern in Boise Zoning Code Rewrite debate

Planning and Zoning commissioners recommended approval following a week of hearings in late April.

BOISE, Idaho — The proposed rewrite of Boise’s zoning code is now recommended by the city's Planning and Zoning Commission. The zoning code determines how and where new developments are built and approved in Boise, and how the city will look for years to come.

The city has been working for a few years, with a lot of public input, to draft a rewrite of that code. Last week, the draft went before the Planning and Zoning Commission. It started with a presentation by the city, outlining their goals of increasing housing affordability and meeting transportation needs by increasing density. Then came days of public testimony, with folks advocating for the rewrite, talking about how it limits sprawl among other things. But plenty of folks testified against the rewrite too, saying that it needs to mandate affordable housing, target neighborhoods more equally, and require more parking with new developments.

"The lack of parking affects everyone, but those without other options are impacted the most,” said Larry Ice with the Centennial Neighborhood Association. “We don't want to end up a city, like so many others, where commercial endeavors fail because of lack of parking. Motorists find themselves driving around in circles looking for parking spaces."

"It seems part of the intent of the new code is to streamline development options, which would allow proposals to go through with little oversight,” said Joanie Fauci with the Central Foothills Neighborhood Association. “We don't agree with this. But we also see the need for streamlining. As the city grows, the city cannot continue to have hearings on every development."

Isabelle Charles said she believes the proposal does "a really great job of preventing sprawl into the foothills."

"I think many people here really appreciate the nature that Boise has to offer and want to preserve the foothills and the areas surrounding it. And for that reason, I support modernizing the zoning code," Charles said.

Marisa Keith worked on the Rewrite Advisory Committee and said, “I know the city's opinion is that they can't mandate affordable housing. I would like to see this zoning code take more of a firm stance, to make not including affordable housing unprofitable. It's on the right track. But I think that it could go further."

Karen Scriver said, "I feel like the zoning changes are aggressive toward low income less affluent, older neighborhoods."

In the end, commissioners unanimously recommended that the City Council approve the Zoning Code Rewrite when it takes up the proposal in June. They talked about how the rewrite will slow down sprawl and increase density to reduce traffic.

They also talked about how just trying to stop growth is kind of un-American.

"Some folks have advocated for a no-growth strategy as a way to avoid the evident burden caused by population growth,” said Commissioner Milt Gillespie. “A no-growth strategy would require a significant government intrusion into private property rights and the free market for real estate and development."

Commissioner John Mooney said, "I'm strongly in favor of growing up, not out, so that the rural nature of the edges of our city remain and the open spaces in the agricultural lands on our outskirts have a chance to last a little bit longer as we grow up."

Finally, Commission Chair Bob Schafer summarized the four days of testimony: "I really hope that we can learn from the lessons of other larger cities and use this code to avoid some of those pitfalls that those other cities have fallen into. I believe that this will help us maintain a sustainable future with less sprawl and less congestion."

Commissioners also admitted the draft is not perfect, adding that they believe perfection is the enemy of a good draft.

Boise residents may submit comments this month. It goes before the City Council in June for final approval, but the specific date has not yet been set.

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