Editor's Note: This article was originally published by the Idaho Press.
Over the past decade, Idaho has grown in popularity as a state to settle down and raise a family.
But people aren’t just flocking to the metropolitan area of Boise, they are moving to the surrounding cities in the Treasure Valley. As Idaho continues to grow, cities like Kuna are trying to maintain the small-town feel and plan for the future.
Idaho has experienced slow, steady growth, and what happens in one area affects all in the Treasure Valley. The estimated population in Kuna is 27,570, which has almost doubled compared to 10 years ago. In 2011 the city’s population was 14,471 according to the Kuna Mayor, Joe Stear.
Because of this, the City of Kuna has appointed Jace Hellman to be the new planning and zoning director for changes to the infrastructure. This role helps guide the future growth of a city as well as amending policies and ordinances, regulating development and monitoring the 20-year comprehensive plan.
Appointed in January 2021, Hellman plans on redirecting growth, keeping up with new developments and staying on top of relevant plans.
Businesses in the area have been thriving as new communities enter Kuna and as the city continues to grow, new jobs and shops are being created, along with a promising customer base.
According to Stear, businesses have been doing well and the growth of the city has been bringing in new jobs and shops to the area. Looking at Kuna’s industrial zone, the city is looking to “get some good things out there that pay high wages” and bring jobs to the community.
Cloverdale Nursery, a landscaping business, has been in Kuna since the mid-to-late 60s. Passed down for generations, James Kidd is one of three co-owners and has been with the business for about 30 years. Kidd said the nursery has seen a lot of growth over the past couple of decades and has been able to increase product volume and retail.
Over the years, their business has grown its customer base, and its demographic has shifted but Kidd says the shift is a good thing. The nursery has an array of plants from different climates and has staff to “educate customers about these different plants who may have trouble keeping them alive.”
“We have to make sure we have educated sales staff here to take care of the people who have landscape questions,” Kidd said. “Maybe they’re using it because the weather from certain plant material doesn’t grow in the afternoon shade here where it would in Seattle.”
Big D Ranch, another agricultural business in the area, has seen demographic changes as well. With an out-of-state customer base and development expanding, there have been fewer growers in the area, said Neil Durrant, co-owner of Big D Ranch.
The ranch has been in Kuna ever since 1947 when Durrant’s great grandfather moved from Utah and started farming. Once raising dairy cows and poultry, the ranch has evolved focusing efforts on selling feed.
“Today we are farming 1500 acres, most of that is rented ground from other landlords, primarily now it’s from other developers and (farming) their land, but then we still own some ourselves,” Durrant said. “We’re still running our warehouse business where we handle about 2 million bushels of wheat a year from global growers in the area, in the market about 90% of it goes up to Portland. We also handle about 30,000 tons of corn that we supply to local dairies and feedlots.”
Being one of the oldest ranches in Kuna and still thriving, the ranch gets weekly offers for its land being in a development area.
“We never moved to the city, the city has moved (to) us,” Durrant said.
Selling has never crossed the rancher’s minds but for other farmers, giving up land can make a big difference.
“It’s only a matter of time before that land is turned into houses,” Durrant said. “A lot of people, they work their entire life and they bought the land, they held onto it. And they didn’t have a retirement because all their money went into buying land, but another way to retire is selling the land.”
According to Hellman, the city hopes to not see agriculture shrink but he thinks farms will, even though the goal is to preserve Kuna’s outskirts.
A couple of challenges both of these growers have faced are everyday issues that can come with more people moving to the area.
Durrant has overseen water problems with people responsible for ditches and keeping the water clean. He doesn’t want flooding within neighborhoods or subdivisions, but Durrant says a lot of management around this matter is being proactive when it comes to development and making sure they get their water to fields.
Traffic and roadways
As more people reside in Kuna, more cars crowd roadways adding to existing congestion.
Traffic is another issue in the city. With more product volume and increased traffic, Kidd has to worry about the logistics of getting around the town and getting trucks to customers and contractors.
Durrant has also had problems with traffic, assuring the safety of equipment and staff while transporting tractors field to field.
“I’d say the biggest thing for us is our safety, even just moving equipment down the road,” Durrant said. “As we get more and more people here that are less familiar with agriculture, and don’t understand why tractors only go 22 miles an hour down the road, and why we’re so wide, safety is our number one priority.”
As more land is developed, Hellman says he wants to keep Kuna an automobile non-dependent town. This includes creating more sidewalks and not burdening roadway systems. As more roads get developed, Hellman wants to focus from inside the city to the outskirts of town. Ada County Highway District has sole authority of highways apart from Idaho Transportation development.
“Part of the reason I think our roads have had the struggle they are is because of a lot of the hopscotch development that has happened,” Hellman said. “Maybe they don’t really have an area to focus on because there’s been an explosion of growth everywhere so it’s hard for them to keep up on the roads that are happening.”
Before expanding thoroughfare, the Planning and Zoning department must first locate areas where new subdivisions may be built, working with existing residents, the Kuna School District and other services.
Housing and schools
A struggle Planning and Zoning has been dealing with is the housing crisis and influx of growth and development. Housing prices are on the rise and there aren’t a lot of existing homes on the market. Hellman said development is a delicate balance of finding out where to build subdivisions without eliminating agricultural land.
“We have a massive amount of influx, a massive amount of growth and a massive amount of development,” Hellman said. “The hard part is, you can’t manage human migration, and we’re trying to figure out how to actually do it in a responsible way.”
The Land Use Planning act, along with the repeal of the National Land Use Planning Commission Act, makes planning hard to build and develop. Formed in 2007, the act is protective of property rights and makes it difficult for decision-makers because projects must meet state code, complying with federal, local and state law. Originally, the act was made to provide procedures for new projects and land use plans, and if a project is denied, decision-makers must provide a way to come back and gain approval, making new plans of development challenging.
Hellman’s main priority is redirecting growth to not interfere with urban wilderness interface areas, zones where natural environments intertwine with developed land, or put unnecessary strain on emergency services, existing residents and the Kuna School District.
While finding new areas to place subdivisions, it is important to work with the Kuna School district as they enroll new students and make room in existing classrooms.
Joy Thomas, a trustee of the Kuna School District said the city and the district work well together planning new subdivisions to work with existing schools. As new communities develop, the school district needs to find a place to put new students.
Currently, the school district has three high schools including an alternative school, two middle schools and six elementary schools, according to Thomas. The majority of new students enrolling are high schoolers.
According to Wendy Johnson, the district superintendent, there have been roughly 250 students newly enrolled in the school system. Thomas says the school board has been watching enrollment to manage class sizes, and they have included in their budget the need to hire another teacher.
The board is always planning 10 to 15 years in advance and is looking to best serve its students, according to Thomas. The district has been conservative with its money and has been able to pay off bonds and loans early, she said.
More developments will be made further, but as growth continues to expand Kuna is looking to a bright future.
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