City Government

Park Land Could Prove Costly

Marianne and Larry Williams have donated 70 acres of Boise river front land in the Harris Ranch subdivision to the city of Boise to be used as a park.

On the face of it the deal looks good. It will extend the greenbelt, it is a nice gesture, it will preserve a mile of river frontage and eventually be a nice “open space park” with wildlife habitat and walking trails.

A closer examination of the gift which was made public at the City Council meeting Tuesday raises some questions and concerns. The issues are not insurmountable, but they do need to be addressed by City Councilors–some of whom were apparently left out of the loop until the donation was announced. We don’t like secret deals dealing with public business period.

The GUARDIAN has learned that on average it costs about $100,000 per acre to develop these so-called “open space parks.” That means they don’t have play grounds, grassy areas, planted gardens, sports equipment and fences among other things. The new Williams Park will cost about $7 million to develop based on the rule of thumb.

The money, according to press reports, will come from “park impact fees” which are charged at a maximum rate of $800 per single family dwelling–less for multifamily dwellings. Last year the Boise Parks Department collected about $850,000 TOTAL in impact fees. According to staffers, $200-250,000 of that was designated to develop “open space parks”–like Williams Park.

Here is the wrinkle. Any way you cut it, impact fees will NOT cover the project.

At the $225,000 annual revenue rate it could take about 30 years to develop the $7 million project piece meal. Even if the City were to spend every single impact dollar collected from the 3,100 homes to be built at Harris Ranch, it would come to only $2.5 million.

The Idaho Constitution prohibits local government from spending more than a single year’s revenue (impact fees in this case) without a vote of the citizens to go into debt in the form of municipal bonds.

The Council has total spending authority to pay cash up front in a single year to build the park, but it will take some real budget wizard to find the money. Staffers call this a “partnership opportunity,” meaning they need some donations, federal grants, or other windfall profits to get the job done. Taxes can also be raised to fund up to 3% above the previous year’s city budget.

Finally we are suspicious of the methods and the motives. The Williams family credits Mayor Dave Bieter for getting the ball rolling. That ball–thanks to the donated land–is rolling toward the City Council and the Ada County Highway District.

To collect impact fees for the park the city needs to have houses built. Until the Park Center bridge is finished, no new houses can be built. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that no matter how nice the gift, there is pressure on officials to approve the development plan and build a bridge.

Did we mention Mr. Williams is planning to build houses, offices, and high density residential units in the middle of this new park?

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Oh for the good ol’ days when we struggled to build parks in the middle of residential developments….now we settle for residential developments in the middle of our parks? If I were the betting type, my money would be that somebody (a budget wizard type) eats paper and craps slightly less than 2 million dollars a year to develop this park over the next five years, as I anticipate development costs will be closer to 9 million when it’s all said and done.

    There’s no free lunch and these “good” things always come with many strings. Five years in a VERY ambitious timeline for this project. If it were self imposed that would be one thing, but it almost feels like extortion when it comes as a condition of the “donation”.

  2. Treva Hamilton
    Nov 30, 2005, 10:32 pm

    Leave it to you to get to the heart of the matter, Guardian. I wondered why this donated park had pictures of buildings inside it. Who wants a park with buildings, unless they are picnic shelters or explanations of wildlife centers. Why does everything that starts out looking nice seem to turn to garbage in this valley? And with a very large price tag on top of it.

  3. This is a bit like the Simplots dumping their “wonderful” old castle on the hill so they wouldn’t need to pay more taxes on it. (I still wonder how much money they made on that deal?)
    I suppose if our local approval authorities were not already bought and paid for, a provision for creating the new subdivision would have been for the developer to provide up and running “open space.” We, the taxpayers, as always, will be “pleased” to pickup the deficit for schools, roads, emergency services, utilities, jails and hospital space that the new houses will require..
    These rapers of the land are not civic minded. They are out for the all mighty buck and will spend absolutely no more on improvements and bribes than they need to.

  4. Let me see if I have this straight – a developer gets someone else (taxpayers, most likely)to pay for the greenscape surrounding his development that will allow him to charge premium prices for that development. Slick deal, if you can get it, and in Boise, he probably will.
    Some “gift.”
    Puts me in mind of that old Christmas saying, “No, you shouldn’t have…really!”

  5. Boise Guardian… You haven’t been paying attention to the hearings.
    Your Statement “To collect impact fees for the park the city needs to have houses built. Until the Park Center bridge is finished, no new houses can be built.”

    During the last hearings the Developer told the Planning and Zoning that they would be coming in with the next phase in 2006! My bet is you will see an application in the next few months.

    No problem now with impact fees!!

    Editor note: There is a problem because the fees won’t pay the bill.

  6. No problem,they will just annex the remaining Ada
    county land and raise the taxes and fees.

  7. How about the idea of charging these developers IMPACT FEES to build their developments? That would go a long way towards paying for police, fire and school servives. When the city runs out of area to annex, then how will they get their extra money? Raise your taxes or balance their budget and cut costs? You guess!

  8. On dh’s comment, The Simplot estate on the hill over looking us poor common folk.
    Has the Guardian done a story on this issue?
    What I hear is that the estate has a value around 2 million and there is intended 3 million in improvements? Hagadone family pony’ed up 500 thousand dollars and the press says it will be completed with outside dollars?

    What I am getting too, is this: can theWilliams Park be done with private dollars? Think I read that Williams is putting in 3 million?

    But you are right folks, the rich will get richer , on there delightfull donations.

    Ed note–We have not done anything on the mansion, but our understanding is that renovations for the most part are private funds. If not, we will report it.

  9. Treva Hamilton
    Dec 3, 2005, 9:33 pm

    You comment that you don’t like secret deals, Guardian, however, you didn’t seem to get very excited about the secret deal BSU did with the Langroise house on Warm Springs. I appreciate that you did some checking but we still don’t know the amount of the sale, who got paid out of the proceeds, or if the buyers are bosom buddies with some of the movers and shakers in the university community. I live in Eagle and I can smell the stench all the way over here. But that is business as usual in good old Idaho.

  10. I think it would be better for Boise if the City gave the Park back to Mr. Williams (Which sounds like it might happen in 5 years any way). Will make a much better Commercial Park, and raise more tax $ for the city… rather than have to spend it!

  11. Land, water, air, money, location, taxes, tax breaks, greed, hypocrits, elitism, politicians, favoritism, etc. My head hurts.

  12. Dear Jack,

    Happy Holidays!

  13. I think that it’s funny that the ENTIRE park and it’s residential and office units are in the FEMA floodplain.

    We should have known that a timber lord wouldn’t have any concept of working with nature.

    I say that the “park” should be given back. Why waste taxpayer funds to keep a rich (person’s) “lawn” looking good.

  14. Whoa Everybody! We can’t give it back until next Wednesday,(the day after the election) You see, the park in question represents 70 plus acres of the 100 acres that our illustrious mayor brags has been made into parks in 2006!!
    Oh!, and while we are counting the damage, the other 30 acres that Bieter has been touting as new parks?
    Terry Day Park-7 acres of bare ground
    New park on Cole road- 10 acres of bare ground
    Borah park expansion- 5.3 acres of bare ground
    Peppermint park- 7 acres of green grass that was dedicated in 2003! (but we added some playground equipment in 2006 so I guess we will count that one twice)
    So, let’s do the math. All together now
    70 acres plus 5.3 plus 7 plus 7 plus 10!
    Gee, it appears that we have a grand total of 99.3 acres of ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!!!!
    Wait, I take that back. We do have one thing. One more example of our mayor LYING about his accomplishments!!

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