Growthophobes Beware Of “Increased Density”


Boise’s city fathers and mothers are just a bit too enamored with the current planning mantra of “increased density,” and other “progressive” attitudes that are “outside the box.”
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In their rush to be “user-friendly” to developers, create demand for public transit, and jump aboard any band wagon with the promise of “jobs and economic development,” city officials have created some serious issues with approval of massive stick-built four story apartments in the area west of Capitol Blvd near Ann Morrison Park.

A GUARDIAN reader pointed out the “master plan” seeks consideration of a publicly-funded parking structure to solve the anticipated problems caused by the new units–all privately owned. Even Boise State University officials noted during the planning process that parking issues were being created with the construction of so many living units.

They also lost a supreme court case last week which remanded approval of one set of apartments back to the city because officials ignored parking issues when the builder sought an exemption to a three story height rule. He wanted to add 33% more units without increasing the parking.

Rather than demand fire-safe building materials for the multi-story buildings, the planning department has allowed use of wood construction. We raised the issue of fire safety with Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan. He declined to comment on the specific projects in the Lusk Street area, but offered the following response to our invitation to post a guest opinion.

Chief Doan said, “Buildings incorporating lightweight construction are likely to present a severe hazard to firefighter safety, if a fire involves or compromises the integrity of the lightweight structural elements. The problem isn’t lightweight construction. The problem is what happens when lightweight construction is exposed to fire. The Boise Fire department provides firefighters with extensive training on the hazards of lightweight construction.
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Boise Fire department has standard operating procedures for fires in buildings that incorporate lightweight construction. We use extreme caution in situations where lightweight construction is or could be involved in a fire; the possibility of rapid and sudden structural failure must be anticipated.

When a fire occurs in a structure that is known or suspected to incorporate lightweight construction, all firefighters operating at the incident scene are notified of the potential hazard and operations shall be conducted in a manner that recognizes the risk of rapid structural failure. Extreme caution is exercised when firefighters are allowed to operate directly above or below areas that are supported by lightweight construction that is involved in or has been exposed to a fire.

All firefighters are immediately withdrawn from such areas if there are indications that lightweight construction is involved in or exposed to the fire. A defensive strategy is employed in situations where the structural integrity of a building or a portion of a building is in doubt.

Boise Fire department conducts pre-incident planning of new and existing buildings, including multi-family residential buildings, to identify risk factors and facilitate the development of appropriate strategies and tactics. Firefighter safety is always a primary consideration in the pre-incident planning process.”

Even with sprinklers and alarms, it’s difficult to ignore the combustibility of wood. It may be strong, but once it gets burned, wood can’t hold a candle to concrete and steel.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. So, how do the firefighters tell if a structure is lightweight?
    Are there skull & crossbones signs over the entrances?

  2. I don’t know where to even begin.

    Let’s start with my college. Housing was expensive. Food was expensive. Books were expensive. Unlike most of you I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I really could have benefitted from a housing market that made it easier on the poor.

    Poor segue here but, no one was killed or even injured in the Edgewater NJ fire pointed out in the last article. That fire was likely an attic fire exacerbated by the big ugly architectural eye candy colonial roof. If I’m not mistaken, the Lusk/Royal apartments are going to be flat roofed which will somewhat eliminate the giant attic fire risk. Even so, codes can be amended to requite fire partitions in the attic. In fact, I thought this already was the case. It is in CA, iirc, but it’s been years since I worked on a giant shared roof complex.

    Anyway, people complain about the homeless and housing yet no one seems to get the fact that housing is so expensive because of all the planning, zoning and building codes. Yeesh, we are micro-managed to death.

    And meanwhile, cheap Mexican and Asian imports flood our markets. How can we compete when their workers can live in cheap cardboard shacks with few of building restrictions we’re saddled with. It’s just another form of unfunded mandate. If the gov’t wants 3 hour fire walls and sprinklers etc. then let the gov’t pay for it.

  3. Prohibitive requirements for parking only drives up the cost of the housing, because additional land is needed for those parking spaces which then can’t be used to house people.

    Therefore, those residents who do not drive, end up subsidizing those who use the spaces.

    Why can’t there be apartment complexes with limited parking, which offer residents less expensive rents in exchange for not needing a dedicated parking space?

    Why is owning, and parking, a car seen as some God-given right? Contrary to what some may think, you really can live in Boise and not own a car.

    The alternative to these dense developments seems to be to send everyone out to Star or Eagle or Meridian or Kuna.

    EDITOR NOTE–Joe, if you could force landlords to rent ONLY to folks without cars, there would be no problem. Reality dictates that upscale apartments attract upscale renters (students) who often have cars. Meridian is a great example of growth run amok. They love growth and they love to “create jobs,” but the school district can’t keep up, hence they are always seeking bond approval for the existing residents to fund the growth.

  4. Editor, if there are no/limited parking spaces, or if a space costs extra money, then those who need a parking space are going to look elsewhere. Let the market dictate what is needed.

    Your mention of Meridian’s tax problem seems like a non-sequiter to my comment on the parking issue.

    EDITOR NOTE–Joe, we agree with you! Market should determine tenants. If tenants show up with cars, they can crowd the area, do harm to existing businesses, etc. Just like Meridian, the growth should be “sustainable.” We already have the rules in place for the number of units, but when that is increased by 33% it means more cars. I would also like to see school districts have “veto power” over new developments as well. If a business creates 100 new jobs, they probably create 180 new students and that means a new school.

  5. I think the parking situation will take care of itself in very short order. Having your car towed is expensive and a pita even for the upscale folks.

    How’s it any different than a Bronco home game? People will adapt.

    Are there really that many BSU students who can afford cars? Or let’s spin that question around, are there potential college students being left out because there’s currently very few options to attend BSU without a car?

  6. Increased density is to be more like Europe. In Europe the middle-class owns only their clothing and maybe a nice watch. Everything else is rented. No cars either… must walk or use PT.

    Europe is all things utopia and wonderful!!! Europe even gets military protection for someone else.

  7. Boisecynic, you nailed this on the head. Students, don’t drive. Go to any college town in the country and you’ll see this. So I don’t know where the Editor is getting his stats on students being “drivers.” The reason BSU students tend to drive is because of what you said. There is a lack of house near campus that would make going to class walkable. Have any of you ever been to University of Washington, University of Oregon, or any other major university nearby. It’s crawling with FAR MORE apartments than BSU has and they don’t seem to have any traffic problems. That’s because they live close to campus so they can WALK. Sometimes I feel like the people here need to venture outside Boise once and awhile.

  8. I would rather have high density population instead of sprawl.

    It’s obvious there needs to be more affordable student/beginning housing near BSU and downtown.

  9. Europe recognized that oil was a temporary gift and taxed gasoline so highly that their infrastructure didn’t completely transition to one that couldn’t function when oil prices got unaffordable, which appears to be anything over $80 per barrel.
    In America, we made the God given right to the personal automobile sacred, and here we are, with a crushed economy due to persistent high oil prices.
    If you look at global shipping index (Baltic dry), you can see that the global economy was crippled by high oil prices, hence the current cheap prices, that will soar again should the economy try to recover.
    We have no choice now but to try and mitigate the damage by going from what was a lavish use of energy, to something that will work in the new reality of expensive energy.

  10. Is the solution to housing density or sprawl? Also, there is no mention if there are sprinklers installed in these structures. Another issue is Handicap Accessibility; are there elevators to facilitate use by those who can’t deal with stairs?

  11. I think high-density close to any university is good development, baring any concerns of construction type or adequate parking.

    BSU’s main problem with parking is they are a commuter school, whether they like it or not. Parking lots also cost more money when real estate is at a premium on campus.

  12. Rod in SE Boise
    Feb 17, 2015, 5:53 pm

    IMO sprawl is the lesser of two evils, when compared to high density devlopments.

  13. JS: Incorrect on reason for low oil prices. Saudis are driving price below cost in effort to damage new North American production. It’s a grudge match because America became a bigger producer this year. Biggest in the world of crude and refined product. The Saudi price war might work… it might not. If they are successful the ripples will go deep into banking/finance industry too.

    Our useless corrupt politicians see it as opportunity to add fuel taxes rather than let it boost the economy… clearly out of touch!

    I do agree, the Saudi engineered spike in oil price to 140-150 was the final straw that killed the economic boom in 2008… but it was a house of cards… so it didn’t take much.

    It’s still a house of cards now… but we’re stronger than Europe… so our markets soar. BTW: The US banks bailed out the European banks in 2008-9 with our TARP money. In short, Europe was and is a bigger mess than we are.

    The Saudi family is the enemy of the West. They fund most of the trouble in that region outside of Iran. In 20 years we will be cleaning the Islam-o-wackos out of the EU just like we did the Nazis. Bonus will be the WWII-like bonding moment with Russia and China. Ironic the Obomination brought up the Crusades… because that is exactly what the Saudis are doing.

    Europe is nothing to look up to. It’s is simply a troubled foster-child of America which circles back home with a host of problems every few years. The Swiss know this and un-pegged from the crumbling EU welfare economy a few weeks ago.

    As for apartment buildings on/near campus… they sure are flimsy short-lived cheapos compared to the legacy buildings of our golden decades. Hmmm, some visionary has a very short timeline to turn a profit. Wonder why? I’m firmly of the opinion that many jobs in America can be done by a trained ape. The explosive growth of University systems is simply to harvest every last dime from the middle-class. Most grads will not benefit from the extra education in our low IQ service economy… and the highly automated manufacturing sector. I predict the University bubble will pop within 10 years… thus a plywood apartment block near a 100 year old legacy University.

    North America is badly in need some very big ideas and some visionary leadership. WWIII will also do the trick. WalMart and TacoBell jobs will not sustain us. Pumping/exporting oil is very important.

    And yes, BSU is a commuter school. The young kids party hard for a year. The core student body has jobs, kids, and cars.

    EDITOR NOTE–C’mon Zip. This post is about about apartments, zoning, and NOT about Saudi oil. Stay on topic please!

  14. JS.
    You are wrong. as a student at BSU, I assure you that parking is an issue. MOST students drive. Those that don’t are a small fraction of out of state traditional students. Especially when those with a general permit, (like most students) get displaced for events like football, concerts, Obama and the like. Then Parking really becomes an issue.

  15. John Smith, have you ever gone to the campus? Obviously not. Students don’t drive, you are kidding, right? I am not really sure why what happens in Wa or Or have to do with what is going on there. I really do not care what is going on at any other campus.

  16. Well if only 1 in ten high school student in Idaho goes on to college then 9 out of ten students must be from out of state and need to drive!?

  17. Chicken and egg arguments are so annoying. Parking is an issue because there few housing options to live near BSU campus and there is huge demand to attend BSU.

    Does anyone think all those single family 1930s/1940s houses on 6000sf+ lots which are common off Broadway— does anyone think those properties can meet all the rental needs of the area?

    Logic? How does it work?

  18. Be sure to take the survey on how you use Capitol Blvd and this area.

  19. John Q. Public
    Feb 19, 2015, 5:50 pm

    The intersection of Capitol & University is a Clusterf**k on a good day these days.

    Where’re all the cars that will come with this development supposed to go?

    Rush Hour(s), Game Day(s), and Events at the Morrison Center and the Pavilion will create other special circles of hell!

    Farewell Boise of Old… We hardly knew thee.

  20. So many are missing the point here. Many BSU students might drive now because they have to; limited housing options close to campus.

    But if you build high-density housing close to campus…viola! Students don’t have to drive to campus anymore!

  21. socialismrocks
    Feb 21, 2015, 8:17 am

    The property taxes from projects like this supports our socialist utopia. BUILD MORE.

  22. Chuck Woods
    Mar 1, 2015, 10:11 pm

    Boise never met a developer they didn’t like. Our taxes get to pay for their parking garage? It’s never about what is good for Boise. Isn’t it time that Boise took the reins in planning their / our future instead of being led around by the nose.

    Fire safety, a separate issue, on multi story buildings is a given in most places in the country. Could it be that wood studs are still used here for a reason instead of metal.

    The traffic plan was not mentioned here. I assume there is one. No I take it back I assume there is none.

  23. My grandson road the bus from West Boise to BSU because we weren’t willing to pay for on-campus parking and BSU provides free bus passes for students. Transit is not great in Boise, but it works.

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