By Rachael Grotsky, Chief Administrative Officer of Friends of Murgoitio Park, and David King, President
Recent news articles have injudiciously placed the problem of annexation squarely on the shoulders of county-dwellers, claiming that the City of Boise has repeatedly shelved the annexation process because residents fought it so hard. The issue is more complex than localized citizen kick-back and has more to do with the City’s lack of direction as it stumbles over the building blocks of civic growth. Let us not forget that in 2008, the real estate market collapsed, and the country entered a recession, and that is perhaps the real reason for the sudden halting of multiple large-scale annexation projects in Boise, including that of the Southwest.
The annexation issue is one of uncoordinated planning and egregious mismanagement, coupled now with shades of panic—even desperation—in these years of unprecedented growth. There are fundamental financial problems at work in the City. While Boise could use a new library, to be sure, it is criminally irresponsible to pursue the construction of a $104 million dollar library complex in a City of our stature, in our fiscal situation. Not coincidentally, when that project was subjected to the critique of the public, Boise’s budget director suddenly vacated his position. It is similarly short-sighted to rely on impact fees for development—it is poor fiscal policy, and the City has been cautioned to this effect.
When Councilman Jimmy Hallyburton says of expanding City services that “a lot of that stuff comes through impact fees when development happens,” he is admitting that the City simply cannot afford its growth, whether before development or afterward. They cannot afford to build the infrastructure in advance of development—a legal requirement—nor can they afford it after development, because now they miss out on the collection of impact fees.
Nor do fees always go to the areas they are collected from, or to which they are ostensibly designated. As Southwest Boise has grown, the City has collected millions from the region in park impact fees. But times change, and so does leadership, and instead of spending these impact fees on Murgoitio Park, the City leapt over the source of the money and spent the bulk of it in developing and constructing a “Proposed Large Urban Park,” a neat topper for the ribbon of extant parks in downtown Boise. This was Esther Simplot Park.
Murgoitio Park has been used tactically when convenient to the City and stripped of status when inconvenient. The Murgoitio acreage has always been included in the city’s list of park assets. The total value of these park assets is used to compute the Level of Service—the standard by which the City determines necessary impact fees required to deliver the same service to new areas needing parks. Having served this computational purpose for other regions, the Murgoitio parcel’s own potential to serve is being submarined with unprecedented haste.
The overstep of the current administration toward this fast-track annexation smacks of desperation, and worse—of unfair advantage for the few. Records suggest that the City originally presented the current annexation proposal to the Boise School District under the pretense of finally constructing a park on the Murgoitio site. The School District did not learn about the proposed residential development of the property for weeks after they handed over written consent. To further compound confusion, City staff have been cutting corners regarding public information, waiving procedure prior to neighborhood meetings, and leaving staff unprepared to answer residents’ questions. Many questions have gone unanswered entirely. The City is insisting on an expedited process.
The annexation controversy has little, if anything, to do with the real issue, which is a total breach of commitment to care. The City made a commitment to provide the people of the southwest a regional park to be proud of—a venue to benefit not only the southwest region but the entire City of Boise.
The region has been in the Boise City Area of Impact (AOI) since the early 1980s, and since 1995 this area has been subject to AOI park impact fees, City land-use ordinance, and adherence to the City’s Comprehensive Plan. Southwest Boise is not a new inclusion under the umbrella of policy, and when its denizens mark an envelope with their return address, the City they mark is “Boise.” They work in Boise, and they shop in Boise. Let us not argue that Boise does not reciprocate, does not appreciate that the Southwest arm of the City is the overworked limb on a wide, ever-reaching body.
Some news articles have stated that Murgoitio Park was never included in the City’s Capital Improvement Plan, and this is simply untrue. Murgoitio Park is referenced comprehensively, countless times, in various plans and projects spanning the last two decades, including the Capital Improvement Plan for impact fees. It has long been included in impact fee studies. Over the years, professionals have been hired to analyze the site and draw up detailed presentations, the results of which have been accessible in the City’s records throughout the last two decades. And the record shows plans to begin construction were being made and funding from donors was being secured.
These plans have, until this very summer, been the backbone of many home sales in the southwest area. Real estate agents in unincorporated Southwest Boise habitually use Murgoitio Park plans as a sales tactic, printing maps and details for potential buyers, lauding the tremendous boon of having such a masterpiece property nearby. The City promised it. Deals were made on its promise.
Some of us, in recent days, have heard the suggestion, “If you wanted to live in a nicer part of town, you should have moved there instead.” Though this sentiment baffles the senses, it sadly seems to represent the ethos of the current administration. There appears to be a distinct effort by Councilmembers, by Parks and Rec. department, and by Mayor McLean to downplay and diminish the very real disparity of park access between Southwest Boise and its neighbors to the North and East.
To sweep the City’s obfuscation off the table, the Board of Friends of Murgoitio Park unanimously resolved to support the City’s annexation of all necessary portions of the park’s residential areas of impact in conjunction with the completion of the park and the preservation of all its current land use restrictions. Residents in the Southwest—those within and outside of the City limits—are organizing as if their families’ well-being depends on it. It does depend on it. All of Boise deserves the type of vision that recognized the wisdom of setting aside enough land to ensure that as Boise grows, it will not lose one of its most defining and desirable attributes: Its remarkable system of equitably accessible parks and opens space.
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