“Rest of Us” Pay For Failed Development Costs

Reporter Cynthia Sewell has an interesting piece in the Daily Paper about life in AVIMOR for the five residents of the so-called planned community of 850 homes. But who pays for that quiet existance?

A GUARDIAN reader pointed out “the rest of us” are already on the hook to take care of failed developments like Avimor–just as GROWTHOPHOBES had feared.

Our reader calls Avimor “a failed taxpayer subsidized boondoogle.” He notes ACHD already accepted maintenance responsibility for the 3.4 miles of roads, storm water drains and sidewalks in Phase 1 and claims the tax base from 5 homeowners would hardly pay for a single swipe of a snowplow or streetsweeper. An ACHD spokesman confirmed the District has also accepted responsibility for “tens of miles of roads” in Kuna, Meridian, Eagle and elsewhere in subdivisions where building has stopped.

The reader also cautions that utility expansion costs will probably sneak into existing user rates for the overhead and maintenance costs for the 5 mile extension of power lines, water lines, natural gas lines.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. Clippityclop
    Apr 13, 2009, 5:10 pm

    Ada County Commissioners, take note. You couldn’t wait to lap up the tax revenues projected by these developers during the public hearings for Avimor et al. Guess what? These ill-fated projects will end up costing County taxpayers a bundle. Not even a special taxing/bond district will bail this mess out. You need to get your money up front via a performance bond. Anything less is a disservice to this County. I hate to say I told you so… especially when all of us County residents will be picking up the tab.

  2. Valid points. At the same time, consider that people who live in low-density ranchettes impose the same infrastructure costs on people who live in dense developments. Low-density development doesn’t enrich local governments as much as higher-density develoments because there are fewer taxpayers, per square mile, to pay for fixed road, public safety, school, mail delivery, power distribution, water and other costs. Isn’t this is just as worthy of scrutiny?

    EDITOR NOTE–Wonk, at the present time the numbers are horribly skewed…like 5 residents on something like 30,000 acres. Granted the later “phases” have not been developed. Even so, the Avimor residents apparently are savoring the “open space”
    more than they would high density living. Avimor touted the massive open space in all its promos as well–not high density living.

  3. Not only do we pay for failed development but we get to pay for urban sprawl as well. Water and sewer are “enterprise funds” rate payers all get to pay for expansions.

    When cities expand to far too fast and growth stops, the need to pay for water and sewer lines does not go away. The people in these failed subdivisions become heavily subsidized by all rate payers.

    You just gotta love growth. Old farm to market roads were never designed to carry the traffic they now carry due to a lack of political will to get growth to pay for itself. And once again it will be property taxpayers who will get to fix the mess.

    Elected officials made a bargain with the devil and he has come to collect his due.

  4. G, the massive open space you speak of comes from the many miles of developed trails and open space now open to the public. That’s what Avimor and planned communities in general tout and I say that as a Hidden Springs resident.

    It’s a different development model than ranchettes: crowd the homes onto smaller lots and transfer that area into preserved open space with public access and the clustering will improve the efficiency of service delivery (assuming it gets built). The ranchette model is: Move as much land as possible into the private realm, leave no public trails or wildlife access, soil the aquifer with septic tanks and decrease the efficiency of services by spreading everything out. The only difference is you and the ranchette dwellers are aligned in your dislike of newcomers, but the same issues of service provision and public access remain.

    Better a planned community than an unplanned community, I always say.

  5. Liars, Fools, and Idiots
    Apr 13, 2009, 9:53 pm

    Developers, Planners, and Commissioners.

    Or revise the mix, at your leisure. This is as bad as planning gets. We were told, again and again, by the developers and the county, that these planning disasters were the answer to urban sprawl. Now we are told, by the sprawling few who live there, that they like the sprawl just fine. I suppose they would, but they were supposed to like urban density, not one per 60, or whatever the current ratio is.

    Once again, the commissioners have proven to be total idiots, and as the other feature on this blog verifies, they are more than willing to perpetuate the mistakes.

    Liars, fools, and idiots. Developers, planners, and commissioners. They may be meant for each other. Too bad no one is interested in saving the citizens.

  6. Clippityclop
    Apr 13, 2009, 10:12 pm


    The County has never provided much in the way of services to rural dwellers, nor was it expected. Ranch/ranchette (?) owners were hip to that when they chose to live where they live — it’s part of the deal. If they had wanted urban services, guess what? They would have chosen to live in town. I’m really tired of this argument. In any event, far-flung ill-fated PCs like Avimor plunked down in a rural setting will cost the County a helluva a lot more than a few expectationless “ranchettes” ever could. Wait and see. This is going to be one ugly ride. I seriously doubt those high-density tax dollars you crave will ever materialize. Rural folks call that ‘reality.’

  7. Clip, ranchette residents do want urban services – they just don’t want to pay urban taxes. Because of their low-density, roads, fire, police, EMS, mail, schools, cable, phone, power, etc., all cost more to provide and maintain. They pay no premium for their low-density lifestyle, and instead everyone else has to absorb the cost of their lifestyle choice. Also, unless they are pooping and sucking water out of the ground at the same time, water and sewer also cost more to provide. They also put more miles on the road because, being the rugged individualists they are, they have to drive farther to reach that godawful city for work, public open space, recreation and shopping.

    At least planned communities group these homes so as to preserve open space and they purposefully plan for commercial development. As the development of Meridian shows, the imprimatur of a city government on your development doesn’t mean you have fundamental trip containment or connectivity.

  8. Of course those few residents enjoy the open space. The rest of us would enjoy it even more if they weren’t there either.

  9. Clippityclop
    Apr 14, 2009, 6:43 am

    And lastly, Wonkster, puh-leeze don’t hold up Hidden Springs as a model of responsible PC stewardship. Not only is that development NOT selfsustaining by the wildest stretch of the imagination, but with the grading of the now dumped/sold off 8th addition above Cartwright (which Mr. Martin swore during a town meeting would never be developed and left as open space, largely because the hillside is so obviously unstable)entire hills were leveled and Currant Creek filled in. What an environmental atrocity! No sir, Hidden Springs has had way more more impact than a few scattered ‘ranchettes,’ so quit deceiving yourself.

    It’s been more than ten years now, and I suspect even your fire station is still unmanned by professionals at various shifts… at least I still see the County responding from town and I’m pretty sure the BLM boys put out your last fire when they were returning from a call from Horseshoe Bend.

  10. Why is anyone surprised with these latest developments? The G man and many contributors on this, as well as numerous other sites, have been warning of this outcome for at least the last two years. Yet, with the exception of Sharon Ullman and Sara Baker, we keep electing the same “schmucks” to office. Until we “cut off the head of the snake” we will continue to be saddled with paying for all these poor choices by our elected and appointed officials.

  11. There are Wise Men, and Then There are the Commissioners
    Apr 14, 2009, 8:21 am

    The difference between wise men and fools, is that the wise learn from their mistakes.

    Pinnacle Corp, the parent of SunCor/Avimor has learned from their mistakes and is getting out of the planned community business.

    Ada County, for its part is set to extend the foolishness by giving the developers a two year extension to get several more of these lead balloons off the ground.

    Other posters have suggested, facetiously I used to think, that we should just turn the county over to the developers, after all, how different would it be from the current situation. Right now, that looks like good advice. Pinnacle Corp, one of the biggest of the big, is shedding itself of planned communities. If only Ada County were that wise.

  12. For some reason, the G didn’t put up my last response. In any case, Clip, I never held up Hidden Springs or any other place as a model of good development; people don’t come to this site to discuss good development or anything else good. My point is that while some complain about how the public will have to pick up the costs for Avimor being stalled, we routinely approve low-density development that requires a subsidy from those living in higher-density development. Why isn’t that much of an issue I wonder?

    EDITOR NOTE–Wonk, you are always welcome, even if your comments are sometimes snarky and ill conceived. 🙂

  13. Clippityclop
    Apr 14, 2009, 12:04 pm


    Low density development like rural residential (1 to 10 acres) or rural preservation (1-40) acres costs very little for services largely because there aren’t any and nobody really expects it, trust me. I don’t think the rest of you are subsidizing much of anything. I could be wrong, but I think Ada County emergency services call logs would back me up on this. Also, the Seaman’s Gulch Road was NEVER routinely maintained until Hidden Springs went in and nobody in the hinterlands complained about it because it was a County road. Hidden Springs was supposed to improve the Dry Creek Road, but that never happened and now I believe they have dumped off that responsibility on the Dry Creek Ranch PC which likely won’t happen in all reality.

    If you’re so keen on the virtues of density, I suggest you relocate to Calcutta.

  14. With so many informed and educated readers of the Boise Guardian why don’t we(you of course) create a list of necessary elements of a planned community. What should and should not be included? How should houses be built? Water consumption? Trails? Alternative Energy? Parks? Fences? Intricate CCTV for Big Brother HOA? Some PC’s are better planned than other PC’s.


  15. Wonk – your point is well made and valid…why beat up only Planned Communities….why not use the Growthphobe hammer to pummel on low density rural development in the same fashion? The reason (in my opinion) is pretty simple – for better or for worse Planned Communities fall under a much stricter review and approval process dictated by a very specific ordinance.

    Want more…ok here goes but I warn you it gets longwinded. The ordinance sets out very specific approval guidelines for Planned Communities. One very important component of the Planned Community ordinance application requires the applicant (developer) to perform and submit an Economic Impact Analyst. This study shows the expected financial impact that the Planned Community will have on the tax base (County, Public Safety, ACHD) over the lifespan of the development. As you might imagine, the results of that Developer funded exercise are as rosy as the grounds around Saint Lukes in early May, especially given the real estate boom of the 2005/2006 period which was when several Planned Communities such as Avimor came before the Commissioners. The Commissioners have a duty to review and challenge the Economic Impact Study before accepting the application. Not surprisingly, the Commissioners provided very little push-back to the Avimor study, which showed aggressive sales forecasts (and resultant tax base increases) even considering the favorable real estate market during which it was performed. Fast forward to today. Real estate market bust, Economic Impact study bust. Who is at fault? Was the study flawed, or did it just become the victim of unforeseeable circumstances? The Developer submitted the study as required. The Commissioners blessed it. Times changed…and now it turns out the Developer and the Commissioners blew it. Badly.

    Solution? My opinion – insert teeth into the Planned Community approval process that rewards a Developer for meeting or exceeding their Economic Analysis, and holds them accountable when they don’t. Submit a realistic forecast. Beat your forecast – get some tax credits or reduced impact fees…something tangible. Don’t live up to it….cut a check every year for the difference between forecasted tax base impact and the actual result. Pretty simple to implement – take the forecast and turn it into an excel tracking spreadsheet and off you go. Heck I bet there surely is a beancounter in Ada County Development Services that could handle the extra workload in these slow times!!

    There are a lot of smart people (ok maybe just a few) on this blog – it would be great to see them expand this thread with engaged conversation on a solution driven topic. Doing so would be a much more beneficial use of time than celebrating the demise of a Developer and/or saying “we told you so”.

  16. Clippty,

    Wonk was try to say- it is more efficient (water,sewer,trash) to have 40 houses per mile of road versus 4 to 6.

    I think PC’s can be very beneficial for their stated reasons. Avimor’s demise has nothing to do whether or not it was well planned. I would say the best example of a PC is Bown Crossing though it was never touted to be.

  17. Antiphobe, I think that is a great idea you have. I do not often hear people here discuss constructive solutions to things but that is an excellent way to follow up on the promises of developers. What’s that Russian adage? “Trust but verify.”

    What sort of consequences could developers face for not meeting their self-established benchmarks? Loss of density bonuses? Financial penalties? How long and sharp the teeth?

    EDITOR NOTE–Some sort of “performance bond” would probably do the trick much more easily.

  18. Clippityclop
    Apr 14, 2009, 8:49 pm


    What color is the sky in your world? Please reread my previous post. Rural dwellers have trash service, but water and sewer aren’t an issue. EMS services are what they are — nobody expects a 4-minute response time and assumes the risk. The same is true for wildfire. Again, if folks wanted urban services, they would have moved to town!

    G, I agree. It’s all about the performance bond.

  19. Guardian & Clippityclop (would be a great name for a country band) I don’t agree…I don’t think performance bonds do the trick. Correct me if I’m wrong but the intent of performance bonds are so that developers/builders can market and sell prior to infrastructure being completed. The bonds protect buyers who purchase early on by insuring that if the developer bails, there will be a bond in place pay for completing roads, sewers, parks..whatever the developer has committed to building. That’s fine and dandy, but it’s only half the protection that is needed. After completion, roads (easiest example) are accepted by ACHD who then maintains them. If there are not enough sales to support the maintenance of those roads (see Exhibit A as in Avimor) then who subsidizes that cost. You, me and other suckers who pay into the ACHD pool. I point you back to my original post – something in the way of a tax base tracking/verification system is needed. Completing the development is one thing, paying for its ongoing maintenance and overhead with only 5 homebuyers living there is quite another.

    Unless you are suggesting a performance bond that protects the sales forecast…then yeah I guess that would work hadn’t thought of that option.

    EDITOR NOTE–Don’t care where the bond comes from or what it is called, but some sort of “insurance policy” is needed to protect the “rest of us” other than making more tax laws and exemptions, rebates, etc.

  20. Clippityclop
    Apr 15, 2009, 5:17 am


    Every major construction company is required to bond out as part of their bid, or nobody would dream of accepting the bid. The ability to produce this surety is a huge source of pride for companies because it says that the surety also agrees that they can do what they say they can do, and protection is guaranteed. Most, if not all of these developers do NOT have the financial horsepower to fund the infrastructure for these projects and must rely on home sales which is an extraordinary gamble — one that shouldn’t be backed by the citizens of Ada County.

  21. Good Boy Phobe!
    Apr 15, 2009, 7:21 am

    You nailed it phobe. That is exactly what is needed. A bond that covers completion, or buy back and removal, which ever is cheaper. And, if completion is the answer, the bond needs to cover the maintenance for a reasonable length of time, say 30 years.

    Welcome to the real world.

  22. I feel the need to defend me and my fellow “ranchette” owners. I have lived on a 5 acre parcel in South Boise for 25 years. The septic system on my property is self sufficient, it works with natural enzymes and I have never had to get it pumped (no city sewer). The well on my property is also self sufficient (no city water, responsible water consumption is a possible issue but we are talking infrastructure costs). The space allows for horses, chickens, and a fantastic garden. If there were major tax payer expenses put into gas and electricity infrastructure it would be news to me, being that the lines were already 50 feet from my house on a major road.

  23. Clip, I mentioned this in a prior post but here are some of the services that are spatially dependent: electricity, roads, postal, cable, fiber optic, public safety, wastewater, water, trash, EMS, social services, recreation, telephone and probably some others I forgot. There are fixed capital and labor costs associated with providing all these services and the fewer ratepayers/taxpayers there are per square mile, the more denser areas have to pay to offset others peoples’ higher service costs. True, many rural dwellers have fewer services, so deduct as necessary for each instance.

    My point is that low-density development is much less efficient and costly to service. If you’re going to apply that argument to uncompleted planned communities, in all fairness, you must also apply it to development that is low-density by design. Some of the biggest growthophobes around live in just such development.

    As for moving to Calcutta, there are plenty of examples of dense, efficient development that are part of Idaho’s original heritage, both new and modern. Rural development only became low-density with the advent of the automobile and roads. Before then, rural dwellers were truly self-sufficient or grouped in dense small towns.

  24. Still not sure my point got through to you Clippity. Completion bonds assure completion, but what insures that sales and tax base occur as promised? I think we agree, but I’m making a point that bonds aren’t the solution to the tax base delimma when an Avimor is slow to produe and/or never produces.

  25. Clippityclop
    Apr 15, 2009, 8:46 pm

    Phobe, my love,

    When you’re looking at several hundred million dollars of improvements to say, Highway 55, maintenance costs are fairly peanut-esque. I think Avimor tanked because, well, the location blows. Too bad Suncor laid out the cash they did, but even worse, the environment took a beating, no matter what they planted. The whole thing is a nasty scar. It’s still amazing to me that the Commishes ever bit on this fish story, but there’s no telling… Unfortunately, the taxpayers will provide the bailout because we’re still breathing. Now that blows, too.

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