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Nampa wrestles with how to handle bursting residential development

Nampa's population, now an estimated 106,000, has doubled in the past two decades. COMPASS estimates the city will grow to 150,000 by 2040.
Credit: Jake King/The Idaho Press
New housing developments have been sprouting up on lands that were previously used for agriculture, photographed here near Can-Ada Road in Nampa on Tuesday, April 13, 2021.

NAMPA, Idaho — Editor's Note: This article was originally published by The Idaho Press.

Doug Thurgood stares down his driveway and sees change before his eyes. On the left is his farm, where he’s grown corn, wheat and peppermint since 1985. On the right is a row of houses extending into the distance.

In between, a white vinyl fence separates the old Nampa and the new Nampa, one way of life and another. The fence symbolizes the tug of war that’s taking place, with agriculture on one side and residential development on the other.

"It's really paralyzed us,” Thurgood said. “It really has, to be able to function as a farm."

Thurgood farms on land he owns off Can-Ada Road in north Nampa and leases land nearby, which he said is largely owned by investors. The land he owns is surrounded by new houses.

Nampa's population, now an estimated 106,000, has doubled in the past two decades. The Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho estimates the city will grow to 150,000 by 2040.

More people means a need for more housing, and Thurgood predicts almost all the land he leases will be developed in four to six years. He recently started growing pumpkins because they don’t need as much acreage.

Thurgood has lived in the area for 60 years. He’s seen waves of development come and go.

“This is the biggest building boom we've ever had,” Thurgood said.

On Wednesday, the city of Nampa will close an online community survey about residential development. The city wants to listen to residents' feedback. On Thursday, results from the survey will be shared with the city council and planning and zoning commission at a workshop at 5:30 p.m. at the Nampa Civic Center. The planning done now will affect people long into the future.

How to address population growth is at the top of Nampa’s to-do list. Infrastructure can’t quite keep up with the increasing population. Traffic frustrates residents. Which projects align with the city’s vision is a critical question. And it requires the planning in advance to get it right.


To Nampa’s principal long-term planner Doug Critchfield, “get it right” means matching planning efforts with the city council’s vision. That way, when the city council reviews projects on a case-by-case basis, there’s minimal friction between what councilmembers want to do and what the planners recommend. 

Nampa has a 2040 comprehensive plan and a future land use map, which will help guide decisions. But the more feedback gathered and the more specific plans can be, the more the city has to base decisions around.

“You're kind of redefining the community,” Critchfield said. “This whole comprehensive plan process was a little bit of a redefinition of what Nampa wants to be. You go from a small town to a large urban center.”

Nampa Planning and Zoning Director Rodney Ashby spent five years working for Ada County Highway District before returning to Nampa a few years ago. While at ACHD, he often heard people say transportation follows land use.

“I always used to think, 'Well, not always,’” Ashby said. “They are so interconnected that you can't really say one comes before the other. When we develop roads that are wide enough to handle the future growth we anticipate, then the land use can follow. But if we build land use of significant density without having roads in place, then we're in trouble.”

It’s an example of the balancing act Ashby considers when planning. And there’s lots of competing priorities he keeps in mind.

Preserving agriculture land, designating land for housing, managing traffic congestion, figuring out how much housing should go in each place, where to put commercial interests, how to combat housing affordability issues, how much open green space is needed — these are all the things Ashby swishes around in his head.

“There are tools you can use (to preserve farmland),” Ashby said. “But then if the goal is to just provide large lot, single-family homes forever and ever, that's a tradeoff again. If that vision is to provide single-family homes, it's going to look a lot different than if we are trying to preserve ag land.”

There’s little agriculture space designated inside the city’s impact area on Nampa’s future land use map. Farmland in the north borders Middleton’s area of impact (land that Middleton plans to annex one day). The rest of the agricultural land on Nampa's future land use map is outside the area of impact near Lake Lowell in southwest Nampa.

Nampa Mayor Debbie Kling said she wants to preserve farmland. A potential way to do that would be to create higher-density housing closer to the city center. One of the key objectives of the resident survey is to find out how much tolerance people have for that greater density, Critchfield said.

Nampa has also looked at master-planned developments, which Critchfield refers to as “smart growth.” That means combining types of land uses in one area. So a single-family home may be next to a multifamily home. Commercial use might be next to recreation. Transportation corridors connect it all.

In Ashby and Critchfield’s research, they’ve found those types of developments to be successful. Whether Nampa embraces something similar is to be determined.

The majority of Nampa's new housing is single-family. The city approved 10 times the number of new single-family dwellings from 2016 to 2020 than multifamily (1,291 versus 124).

“Greater densities can be very good for transportation if we place them in places where there is capacity to handle that transportation,” Ashby said. “You have to think about where do we place this density?”

Critchfield also pointed out that people identify with downtown. He’d like to mimic places that preserved their downtown core. That’s another ingredient thrown into the blender of priorities.

“It’s challenging. It’s exciting,” Critchfield said. “But it’s important that we get it right.”


Larry Olmsted was born and raised in Nampa and attended Northwest Nazarene University. The 75-year-old moved around a while after college, but later returned to Nampa and bought a house in 2003.

It wasn’t until about four years ago, he said, that traffic became an issue. Instead of hopping in his car whenever, he now plans his cross-town trips. If it’s during rush hour, he’ll plan his route to avoid busy roads. Or, he might skip it entirely.

Olmsted is nostalgic for the old days when he could easily drive downtown and not spend his time staring at red brake lights and turn signals.

“I’m kind of disheartened to see it get spread out and lose some memories,” Olmsted said. “But it’s something you realize happens. You want to manage it as best you can. I think generally Nampa’s giving it a good shot."

If Olmsted had his way, there wouldn’t be another home built in the city. He knows that’s unrealistic. And he’s complimentary of the city for accepting input, like with the survey that’s out now.

Olmsted and Hubert Osborne, another Nampa homeowner, are both members of the Concerned Citizens of Canyon County Committee. They both believe growth should pay for itself. In 2019, the city restructured its impact fees to capture more of the cost of development. The updated impact fees take some of the burden off taxpayers, shifting it instead to developers and buyers.

Money from impact fees goes to transportation, police, fire and parks. Olmsted and Osborne wish schools would be allowed to receive impact fee money as well. State law doesn’t allow that.

Osborne has lived in the Treasure Valley his whole life and in Nampa for the past 17 years. He said “you can always complain” about traffic, but complimented the city for building roundabouts.

“The bottom line is, growth should pay for itself,” Osborne said. “You go from there. I don’t personally think that there’s any way to stop growth. People need a place to live.”

Olmsted is supportive of higher density because it could prevent residential sprawl into farmland. He’s also sympathetic for younger people trying to buy their first home. Multifamily options could alleviate affordability issues.

Olmsted has reviewed the 2040 comprehensive plan with potential solutions. He hopes the city sticks to it. Still, it may not be perfect.

“I don’t think anybody’s got the totally right answer,” Olmsted said.


As the long-term planning takes place, the city is addressing its growth one project at a time. As mayor, Kling feels the gravity of the issue she’s tasked with overseeing.

“There are certain things we can guide and certain things we can't,” Kling said. “The private sector, the developers, the people moving in, we can't say, 'Don't come.' But we've got people here saying, 'Stop the growth.' It is very complex.”

Kling thinks about residential growth in three categories: Multifamily housing or apartments; small developments within city limits; and large subdivisions on the outskirts of the city.

She wants to balance all three. How to strike that balance is what she calls “the magic question.”

While each project may prioritize different things, Kling circles back to the city’s tagline. “Are we creating a safe and healthy community where people prosper?” she asks herself. Then she thinks about the city council’s priorities of public safety, infrastructure and economic opportunity.

On a more tangible level, Kling is a proponent of mixed-use developments that combine housing styles, incorporate open green space and have the infrastructure in place to support the people living there. Kling highlighted the Tuscany neighborhood in Meridian as an example of something to emulate.

“I want to see developers that are willing to come into Nampa,” Kling said, “and have well-thought-out planned communities that have diversity of density within the same community.”

In 2018, Nampa City Council denied a project that proposed a 200-home subdivision, two facilities for assisted and independent senior housing and a small commercial area on the corner of Midland Boulevard and Cherry Lane.

Councilman Randy Haverfield was the lone vote in support of the project.

“The message you’re sending to the development community (is) that you don’t want to see progressive growth like this happening,” Haverfield said at the time.

In a recent interview, Haverfield said he wants residential growth that includes commercial work opportunities. He doesn’t want Nampa to become a place where people live but don’t work.

As of 2018, roughly three out of four employed Nampa residents commuted out of the city for work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's On the Map tool

Haverfield pointed to the comprehensive plan, which gives guidelines for growth but is not set in stone.

“More mixed-use buildings (downtown) that offer retail and service-related businesses on the ground level and housing on upper levels,” Haverfield wrote in an email, “would be preferable over more expanding rural residential neighborhoods."


Thurgood is feeling the effects of residential neighborhoods next to farmland.

As he stood on his property, he looked north toward the neighboring subdivision and said, “You see this road right here? They're looking for that street right over there. They think this is it,” Thurgood said while standing in his driveway. “And Google tells them to drive in here, so they drive in my driveway all the time because Google points them in here. Happens a lot. Almost daily.”

Thurgood is mindful of his neighbors. He doesn’t want to be too loud and bother them. He is careful about spraying pesticides, too. He gets stuck in traffic when trying to move farm equipment because old country roads are now bustling with cars on a regular basis.

Down the street, Thurgood’s neighbor Bob McKellip is also feeling squeezed. McKellip started farming in north Nampa 42 years ago. He’s switched from sweet corn seeds, wheat and peppermint to sod.

Twenty years ago, he ran out of room for sweet corn seeds to isolate. Without that isolation, his crop couldn’t prosper. Sod is more suited to be grown in tight spaces, so that’s where he’s shifted his focus. 

Like Thurgood, McKellip leases land. He’s now farming half as much ground as he did five years ago.

“I don't think people really realize the value that ag has to give back to our county and to our state,” McKellip said.

McKellip believes planning has to take place before development arrives. That’s the only way he thinks roads can keep pace. As he puts it, “You can’t back up.”

In Nampa’s comprehensive plan, there are some warning signs.

“Agricultural production and residential dwelling are largely incompatible,” the report reads on page 86.

Mixed-use residential can be used “to conserve agricultural land and reduce drive times,” it reads on page 39.

Also on page 39: “Agricultural land will be lost to a monotony of homes.”

Canyon County lost 10% of its farmland acreage between 2012 and 2017, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest Census of Agriculture

McKellip’s land is proposed to be used for medium-density residential. Thurgood’s is proposed for community mixed use.

“I think they really lose sight of the big picture. I really do,” Thurgood said of city leadership. “They roll out the welcome mat much more broadly for development than they do for the industry that's been there and sustained them all along. That's the way I feel anyway.”

As Nampa’s population changes, so does its land. No one knows exactly what the right answer is.

The city is trying to find it.

“There's a lot of people moving from out of the area, so they don't really realize what it used to be,” McKellip said. “But once they get here and live here for a couple years, then they all of a sudden realize what's happening.”

Paul Schwedelson covers growth, Nampa and Caldwell. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.


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