Explainer: Boise wants rule changes around additional dwellings, land division and notification

The City of Boise is working to tweak a number of its rules around development - mostly in neighborhoods.

A Google Earth view of the North End

A Google Earth view of the North End

The proposals have some people fired up, and attracted disapproving letters from the North End Neighborhood Association, among others.  

The City made a number of adjustments to the proposal and provided additional information to allay some of NENA’s concerns.

City leaders say the changes are small, and designed to tighten some requirements and ease others.

Minor land divisions

Right now, according to city spokesperson Mike Journee, folks who own a piece of land can apply to split it into four pieces and skip the long and complicated subdivision process. Instead, they 

“If I own a piece of property, no matter how big it is right now, I can divide it into four pieces of property and develop them separately,” Journee said. “I can do so without going through the (process) that we require for a subdivision plat - things like setbacks, roadways and other infrastructure are challenging in that scenario.”

Cody Riddle, Current Planning Manager with te City of Boise says this change gives them the ability to put more scrutiny on these applications.

“(This gives) us more discretion to deny them and go through the public hearing process,” he said. “They may meet black and white dimensional standards, but we’d like to go through the planning and zoning process.”

Giving notice

Another change would impact who gets notified when a homeowner wants to make a so-called administrative change to their home.  Currently, every neighbor within 300 foot must be notified and a neighborhood meeting must be held - even for changes like the addition of a kitchen or room add-on.  The new proposal would rework the process.

“Right now for a variance, we require a neighborhood meeting. We are not changing that requirement,” Riddle said. “What we are saying for a neighborhood meeting - if someone is adding on to their home, or building a shed - we are saying you don’t need to invite anyone within 300 feet, you just have to inform adjacent landowners and the neighborhood association.”

Instead of a neighborhood meeting, residents would be required to get written consent from every landowner who has property that touches theirs - as well as notify the neighborhood association for their part of town.

“99% of the time it’s just the adjacent landowners that care or get involved anyway,” he said.

Riddle says these administrative variances are small in scope - for some residential projects and “very few commercial projects.”

If a landowner can’t get written consent from every neighbor, they must still hold a neighborhood meeting for every landowner within 300 feet.

Home sweet (adjacent) home

Planners have also proposed to adjust the rules around second homes - or “accessory dwelling units.”  Current City code limits these types of buildings to 600 square feet and a single bedroom - or ten percent of the land area of a parcel.  

The proposal would increase the size limit of an ADU to 700 square feet (but still limited to one bedroom).

Here’s how the City justifies the change in documents filed online:

“The Planning Team finds ADUs to be a good affordable housing option within the City that allows new living units to be established within developed areas of the City with existing facilities. Additionally, many ADUs are used by City residents to provide housing for relatives who need assistance or who are looking for an affordable housing option. As the property owner is required to live on site, ADUs generally provide a well-controlled form of rental housing.”

You can read the full rationale for the changes here.

None of the proposed changes affect zoning code or rezoning. They also don’t impact most commercial projects or conditional use permits.

"Look out Boise:" Silicon Valley looks to Idaho to solve expensive talent problem


‘The Bay Area is broken.'

That's the headline atop a San Jose Mercury News story on the need for affordable talent for companies based in the Silicon Valley area.

Here's the lead:


"Silicon Valley may be the world’s tech paradise, but it’s a hiring nightmare for many local startups now forced to venture from Portland to Boise in search of talent."

The story shows why the immediate future of the greater San Francisco and greater Boise areas are linked.

It is very expensive to live in the Bay Area - and it won't get better soon.  The cost of land drives housing prices through the roof, and with it the costs of food, goods, services and of course talent.

A job somewhere like Facebook or Google could be appealing to many, but to have a standard of living that compares to one you might find in Boise could easily cost significantly more.

The average cost of living in Palo Alto is 39% higher than in Boise, according to data from PayScale. (A personal data point that can help illustrate this, I have been here since August as part of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University - I pay $3,800 for a 2-bedroom cottage near Palo Alto. Per month. For rent.)

Now, companies are finding the Treasure Valley (and other locations like Portland) are ripe for expansion.  The Mercury News looks at Jelli, which opened an office on 8th St. in Boise last year.

The company says the Boise area allowed it to find employees for a third lower than what they pay people doing the same jobs in California.

“As we’ve been looking to hire, we’re running into the same issue that everyone else is running into — in that the Bay Area is broken,” Michael Dougherty, CEO of Jelli told the Mercury-News.

Jelli says it has ten people in Idaho - with plans for another 30 or 40.

“The community’s cool,” Dougherty said. “There’s a lot of really great folks there.”

The influx of jobs can boost the economy, but drive growth faster than leaders or planners expect.

Boise Median Home Price

Data via Zillow

Unemployment in the Boise metro area hit a low of 2.5% in August of last year - the second lowest since 1990 according to non-seasonally adjusted numbers.

With low unemployment and an influx of workers searching for a lower cost of living in Boise - the price of housing is zooming.  Zillow shows the median listing price of a home in the full metro area to be $290,990. In the City of Boise proper, the median listing price is now over $ 300,000, and has increased a breathtaking 18% in the past year alone.

The quick growth is causing increased friction between government and citizens in the Capital City.  Groups like Vanishing Boise have grown quickly and are working to organize and mobilize citizens to have a larger voice in the development and planning process.

The City of Boise has responded to frustration by planning town halls and a series of conversations about Boise's growth.

Leaders will have to balance the demands of private landowners and the need to add housing and services, with an increasingly vocal base of citizens who want to slow growth and preserve the quality of life and cost of living Boise is known for.  The rapid expansion in the tech sector in Silicon Valley in California may soon be strongly linked to the fortunes of the Treasure Valley in Idaho.