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Growing Idaho: Avimor community growing across thousands of acres in the foothills

Approved by Ada County in the early 2000s, the booming planned community of Avimor wants to be annexed into Eagle, but some community members have reservations.

BOISE, Idaho — Editor's note: the public relations firm working with the Avimor developers confirmed that an application to annex into the city of Eagle has been submitted.

Approved by Ada County in the early 2000s, but stunted by the great recession in '08, the booming master-planned community of Avimor is now moving full steam ahead.

Drive north on Highway 55 and you can't miss it. So far, almost 700 homes, as well as mixed-use buildings, are nestled in the foothills community north of eagle.

Nine hundred homes were approved in Ada County and builders recently started in Boise County.

An analysis shows, if annexed in Eagle, Avimor would bring upwards of 21,000 new people into the town over the next 30 years. That's a 64-percent increase in population.

Some worry if that happens it will put a bigger strain on services, resources, and Eagle taxpayers.

Not long ago, only sheep, cattle, and wildlife roamed the land in the rolling foothills north of Eagle. The scene is a far cry from what it will look like 100 years from now, or even 10 years from now.

Managing partner Dan Richter says the McLeod family - who still owns the land - always envisioned development as a series of small towns.

“We like to say villages and hamlets connected by trails, so kids can feel safe out here,” Richter said, “and with lots and lots of open space. And [the McLeods] wanted to make it inclusive, not exclusive.”

The property spans three counties. While almost 700 homes went up in Ada County since 2007, dozens more are under construction at any given time.

In Avimor you’ll find a gas station and brewery, as well as a community center for residents. Crews broke ground on commercial space for a doctor’s office, Avimor leadership office space, a coffee shop, retail, and more – one of a few pockets of mixed-use areas planned for the development.

Avimor also donated land for a public charter school, and Richter said they are setting aside land in future phases for more public schools.

“We want to basically minimize trips outside our community,” Richter said.

Townhomes are also being built in multiple parts of Avimor.

To go green, homes here use less water and they're energy-efficient. The development earned the title of a 'firewise community' for its efforts to help prevent fires.

Avimor already boasts several parks, playgrounds, ponds, courts, and open spaces on private land.

There are miles and miles of trails everyone can use - from hikers, to bikers, to horseback riders.

“We've got right now 100 miles of trails already. When we're done, we'll have probably 400 or 500 miles of trails,” Richter added. “Avimor - when it's done on 23,000 acres - will have about 10,000 homes built on about 8,000 of those acres. And the other 15- or 16,000 acres will be open space.”

Avimor won't be fully built out until around 2060. 

The massive master-planned community extends into Boise County as well; Richter says they got approval to build 1,800 more homes over the next 5 years north into the county.

Over the next couple of years, they will transform the original barn and homestead on the property into an event center where they can hold weddings and other events.

There is going to be even more growth on the west side of Highway 55, where Avimor is already pushing dirt on what will soon be a freeway-like interchange to help with traffic.

Eventually extending into gem county, Avimor will build thousands more homes on that side of Avimor, as well as more commercial space. Richter hopes to begin talks with gem county in the near future.

Annexing into Eagle

As it grows, Avimor wants to become part of the quaint, rural, small town of Eagle. The planned development sits in the city's planning area.

“We've wanted to do it since day one,” Richter said. “one of the main benefits is we have to deal with just one planning agency.”

“If all that property comes into Eagle, then Eagle residents get a say,” Eagle Mayor Jason Pierce told KTVB.

Eagle Mayor Pierce said he sees the benefit in Avimor annexing into Eagle.

“If we can do something now and set it in stone, and give benchmarks along the way that they have to meet so that they can stay the community that the eagle people want to love and want to keep, then we've done great things for our future,” Pierce said.

But former Eagle Mayor Stan Ridgeway doesn't see it that way.

“Our group is not intended to stop Avimor from being developed,” Ridgeway said.

He and Mary Hunter helped start a group, SOS Eagle, to fight Avimor's annexation proposal.

“There's a lot of costs that are associated with this,” Hunter added. “Expanding the city limits clear up there is adding all of that is not in the best interest of Eagle residents. And slowing things down is better. Not 9,700 homes in one development.”

Community Push Back

When asked if he could understand why the public might push back on how much development is going on in their foothills, Richter told KTVB: “I do, but it's private land.”

“Private property rights are very important,” Ridgeway said. “It becomes difficult when those private property rights start infringing on people in general.”

People move to Eagle for the quaint, rural, small-town feel, and for a better quality of life. But that quality-of-life changes as the city grows at a rapid clip.

“Growth is going to come, we just want to see controlled growth,” Hunter said. “You can't stop development, but you can slow it down. You can restrict it and you can make sure that it's being done in a way that's responsible to everybody.”

“With Avimor, it will totally changed the feeling that people have in Eagle,” Ridgeway added.

The city's boundary really grew when it annexed the land for the large Spring Valley planned community before the great recession.

Spring Valley's annexation and development agreement with Eagle back in 2007 allowed for Avimor to potentially be annexed. Far out in the foothills the properties touch.

Avimor is about 35 square miles, which is bigger than the footprint of the city of Meridian.

SOS Eagle worries about more people living in the fire-prone wildland-urban interface (WUI): increasing traffic, schools overcrowding, and higher demand for water resources.

First responders tell KTVB Avimor will further strain emergency services with so many people living so far away from the urban core.

SOS Eagle believes Avimor will impact the level of service everywhere in the city.

“I don't want to live in a huge city like that. And it is so spread out, it's way up the hill,” Hunter said, “when they spread it out it's not just going to stay on their tax bill, we're all going to have to pay for that increased level of service as well.”

Impact on Emergency Response

Eagle contracts with the Ada County Sheriff's Office (ACSO) for policing. If Avimor becomes part of the city, all Eagle taxpayers would likely have to pay for more officers to cover the area, especially if they want Avimor to have the same level of service Eagle has now.

ACSO spokesperson Patrick Orr said Avimor already challenges deputies because it’s a large patrol area that is “significantly farther away from all the rest of our patrol areas”.

“It just takes deputies more time to get there – and get back,” Orr said in an e-mail to KTVB. “The longer ACSO deputies are up there, the less coverage we have in the rest of our north patrol area. It’s simple math, really – and it would apply to whatever agency has jurisdiction there because it is so isolated.”

ACSO cites an increase in calls for service to Avimor and much longer response times than developments currently within city limits.

Mayor Pierce said he would try to work out an agreement, so Eagle taxpayers don't bear the burden for emergency services.

“We might ask Avimor through the process to supplement some stuff early on until we can get more development up there and more property taxes coming in,” Pierce said. “It has to be adequate day one, right? If they come into the city of Eagle, you have to be able to provide the services that you do in the rest of the city.”

Both Eagle Fire District and Ada County Paramedics Chiefs say their response times to Avimor are about four minutes longer than places in city limits. That won't change if it's annexed.

Avimor pays impact fees to the Eagle Fire District and gifted land for a station in the development. But the chiefs say call volume and tax revenue up there are not high enough to need, or pay for, that station yet.

Impact to Eagle Taxpayers

SOS Eagle anticipates this growth will cost the city and its taxpayers more money.

“They've never proven that would be feasible even with their own studies and changing the parameters. The truth is not in the pudding,” Ridgeway said.

But Richter pushes back on that claim.

“The impact of a house in Avimor will have the same impact as a house built if Eagle were to annex more land, you know, north of Beacon Light down here. It would have the same impact as any other,” he said.

A recent fiscal impact analysis done by Tischler Bise shows annexation would be a boon to Eagle in the short-term thanks to one-time fees from development. But Avimor would saddle the city with a deficit in the long run as Eagle pays for ongoing facility and service costs.

“The $100 million, or whatever it was, where they said that there was the deficit, was in parks. But that fiscal impact didn't have the tool to realize that we're paying to build the parks,” Richter told KTVB.

He argues growth pays for itself with impact fees, property taxes, the Homeowners Association (HOA), and a unique Community Infrastructure District (CID). The area taxing district funds infrastructure projects, specifically building roads and improving Highway 55.

“You need a tool like that so you can pay upfront,” Richter said.

Avimor paid for a different financial analysis - one that their economist tells KTVB doesn't show such a negative outlook.

“If you just put your head in the sand and ignore the fact and you think it's never going to happen, it's going to happen. The question is: does it happen in the county? Does it happen in the city?” Mayor Pierce said. “And so for the city of Eagle, which it will affect the most, we think we should have control over what happens there, but it has to make sense. It can't be, you know, free for all.”

SOS Eagle wants to make sure the city listens to people so they can help shape the future of their once quaint, rural, small town.

“We’re not comfortable with it,” Hunter said.

“There are tons and tons of questions that haven't been answered,” Ridgeway said. “It has the potential to change a lot of things in Eagle, and we won't be that small community.”

But Richter argues the private land will be developed and he feels they're doing it responsibly by conserving open space and access for the public.

“But it is private land. The McLeods could have had fences up and gates locked for the last 106 years,” Richter said. “A lot of communities have a lot of open space, but it's for the rich and famous and it's only them [who] get to use it. Mcleod said, ‘no, we've always shared this land. And we'd like to be able to continue to do that.'”

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