Boise asked ACHD to allow 19-story tower’s street exit. ACHD refused. Then this happened

After the Ada County Highway District and city of Boise disagreed on the design of a 19-story building, the developer came up with a compromise.

Hovde Properties, of Madison, Wisconsin, had proposed that the Ovation apartment building at 521 W. Front St. include a parking garage entrance and exit on Broad Street. Since Boise wants that to be a “festival street,” city officials appealed ACHD’s approval of that location for garage access. The city’s preference was for garage access on 6th Street.

While ACHD didn’t accept Boise’s appeal, Hovde Properties offered the alternative of a one-way parking garage entrance on Broad Street and a one-way exit on 6th Street. Boise’s Design Review Committee unanimously voted to accept the compromise on Dec. 8 and added the language to the project’s conditions of approval.

Boise planner Josh Wilson called it “an excellent compromise and alternative for the project.” Wilson said ACHD supports the new idea.

A rendering shows a proposed 19-story building at 521 W. Front St. The developer hopes construction on the project can begin by June 2022.

A rendering shows a proposed 19-story building at 521 W. Front St. The developer hopes construction on the project can begin by June 2022.

Though resolved, the issue served as another flashpoint in the occasionally tense relationship between ACHD and the city. As far back as its inception in 1972, ACHD has dealt with critics in city leadership positions. Former Mayor David Bieter called ACHD a “failed model.”

Caught in the middle was the developer, who had to figure out how to navigate the unusual structure of the different agencies.

“I think the outcome is a great outcome for all. Trying to take everybody’s concerns into balance,” Hovde Properties President Randy Guenther said in a video interview. “… It was compromise on both sides, but everybody still focused on safety of people and traffic, and because the one-way exit on 6th Street is only an exit, it really eliminated a lot of the issues of the entry and exit on 6th Street.”

With the changes, the width of the garage access on Broad Street is planned to be reduced from 28 feet to 18 feet, and solid waste and overhead access doors would be moved from Broad Street to 6th Street. That opens more space for ground-floor storefront access on Broad.

ACHD, the agency with the final say on where garage entrances and exits can be located, didn’t allow both the entrance and exit to be moved to 6th Street. ACHD’s policy says properties with frontage on multiple streets should have driveways on the street with less traffic. Allowing the one-way exit only on 6th Street was as far as ACHD was willing to bend, Wilson said.

Guenther said he’s become accustomed to working with different agencies to solve problems related to his company’s buildings. The wrinkle in Boise is having roadways run by an agency not controlled by the city. And the dispute threatened Guenther’s desired timeline to begin construction in June 2022 and complete it by the spring of 2024.

These renderings show the altered design for parking garage access in the proposed Ovation apartment building at 521 W. Front St. The top design shows the original plans for parking garage access on Broad Street. The below diagram shows an updated version of parking garage access on Broad Street after changes were made.

These renderings show the altered design for parking garage access in the proposed Ovation apartment building at 521 W. Front St. The top design shows the original plans for parking garage access on Broad Street. The below diagram shows an updated version of parking garage access on Broad Street after changes were made.

Now that the Design Review Committee approved the plans, the project won’t need any future government votes to move forward. The project won’t appear in front of the Planning and Zoning Commission because it’s in a zone that allows for this kind of building.

The Ovation building is planned to have 209 units. It’s among many large planned downtown projects. The 27-story Oppenheimer project with 297 apartments has been proposed at 1115 W. Idaho St. A 12-story senior apartment project with 160 apartments is planned at 601 S. 8th St. On Dec. 13, a developer’s plan to build a 20-story building with 450 apartments at 1010 W. Jefferson St. won the support of Boise’s urban renewal agency.

“I want to thank the applicant for putting up with governmental bureaucracy,” Design Review Committee member Dana Zuckerman said during the Dec. 8 meeting, “and having to deal with several agencies who are not always on the same page. I appreciate your cooperation in this.”

The issue reached a boiling point at a Dec. 1 ACHD meeting, when commissioners raised their voices and briefly spoke over each other during a lengthy discussion about the topic.

Christy Little, an ACHD development services manager, presented to the commission and explained that the decision to allow garages on Broad Street was made by ACHD’s staff in August, and reversing course now would require Hovde Properties to redesign the site.

At the Dec. 1 meeting, Wilson said Hovde Properties initially proposed access on Broad Street when the application was submitted in June. The city staff didn’t raise concerns about this until August after “stakeholder discussions,” Wilson said.

Before the compromise that was reached, Guenther consistently advocated for access on Broad Street.

Guenther said at the Dec. 1 meeting that his company was stuck in “a very precarious position,” and a redesign would cost “several hundred thousand dollars.”

“It was a challenge. The challenge was to find a way for both governmental agencies to meet their objectives,” Guenther told the Statesman. “I wouldn’t use the word frustration. We want to move forward with our project, and we want to find a solution. … Everybody put their heads together and figured it out.”

The city of Boise preferred 6th Street access because of the desire to make Broad Street more pedestrian friendly, which is outlined in its Central Addition Master Plan. Little said she could not apply that master plan because it’s Boise’s and not ACHD’s. She also pointed out that most streets with parking garages in downtown Boise similarly have significant pedestrian movement.

“We have to have driveways somewhere,” Little said. “And ‘festival street’ doesn’t necessarily imply the street is always going to be closed or that it’s a heavier-than-normal focus on pedestrians.”

The ACHD staff recommended that the commission deny the appeal, because the city of Boise was not the applicant, the August approval met ACHD criteria, and the staff had no basis to require a 6th Street driveway.

A rendering shows a future 19-story apartment building on the corner of 6th Street and Front Street. This angle shows the view from Front Street.

A rendering shows a future 19-story apartment building on the corner of 6th Street and Front Street. This angle shows the view from Front Street.

Commissioner Jim Hansen argued that this was a land-use issue, and it would be a “a huge disservice to the taxpayers” if ACHD didn’t recognize the city’s concerns.

ACHD Commission President Kent Goldthorpe said the conflict in policies “is so highly unusual as to almost never have happened before in the history of this agency.”

ACHD commissioners said they would have been willing to work with the city to make note of Boise’s master plans in advance. Goldthorpe said he thought the city would be inclined to communicate earlier to avoid a potential conflict like this.

“We have a conflicting set of policies, which, in my opinion, we’ve had our policies for a long time,” Goldthorpe said. “When another of our partners changes the policy themselves, somebody needs to tell the other one. I’m not sure that we should be holding the bag, if that’s the right wording, or take any blame whatsoever for the policies being in conflict.”

Guenther navigated a tricky disagreement.

“Everybody’s intentions are in the right place, they want a great product, they want the character of the city to be something special,” Guenther said. “We agree with that. We’re totally in alignment on Broad Street. We think that’s a great asset. That’s part of the reason we liked the site with some of the initiatives there.”

A rendering shows a potential 19-story apartment building at 521 W. Front St. This view, from 6th Street, shows the intersection of 6th and Front streets.

A rendering shows a potential 19-story apartment building at 521 W. Front St. This view, from 6th Street, shows the intersection of 6th and Front streets.

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