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EENA Subcommittee Comments on 11/2022 Application

Comments below are the work of long-term and more recent participants in EENA’s Armory Subcommittee, submitted 11/16/2022.

Introduction

The East End is a historic, established neighborhood nestled between Boise’s Foothills and the downtown core. The neighborhood combines a mix of residential types, includes two historic districts, and enjoys proximity to a large system of public spaces, parks, and recreation facilities. As one of Boise’s oldest neighborhoods, the East End has a well-loved, distinctive character that neighborhood residents and businesses would like to maintain and strengthen, even as pressures mount due to the growing city population. The neighborhood is generally viewed as a desirable place to live due to its proximity to downtown, the Ridge to Rivers Trail system, the Boise River Greenbelt, several parks, and numerous other amenities.  Like many Boise neighborhoods, residents describe it as having a very neighborly, close-knit feeling, which we aim to retain. The predominant land uses in the East End are single-family residential along with attractive parks and open spaces.  A small percentage of the land use in the neighborhood is occupied by multi-family housing and commercial operations such as the application before us.

The East End Neighborhood Association (EENA) has been a part of many wonderful discussions with Alpha Development Group in reference to the proposed development at the Nationally Registered Historic Armory site.  EENA is grateful for ALPHA’s willingness to listen to neighborhood concerns regarding height, density, and parking. Currently, EENA still has concerns regarding half of the parcel being undefined, transportation, and the lack of clear preservation mitigation.

Application Omits Neighborhood Activity Center Plan

EENA’s biggest concern with the application is the lack of planning and development for a neighborhood activity center (NAC) as identified in Blueprint Boise. The development of this site as a NAC should be the focus of any development on this site. This application vaguely references addressing the NAC at some point in the future, after the housing is built. While it is not uncommon for PUDs to have phases, EENA urges that this application should be considered incomplete until details about the development of the NAC at the Armory are established and included in the application. While we support residential development as a positive part of the NAC, it is our position that approval of this current application may negatively impact the success of creating a dynamic place at the Armory.

Without a clearer idea for the future NAC at the Armory,  including uses, partners, and design of indoor and outdoor spaces, we can’t know whether the proposed multi-family buildings fit well with that activity center and if the entire development uses the site optimally and sets it up to be successful. For example, we know that one of the Armory’s challenges has been the significant square feet included, so we must ask, “How can we know that any additional commercial space will help or hurt the success of the Armory placemaking activities?”

We know there are local partners interested in working with the developer on creating a dynamic NAC, and we have shared these with the developer. There are solid partners with placemaking and historic preservation expertise in the local area capable of partnering on the Armory.  Please do not approve any application that considers the housing to have priority over the neighborhood activity center, rather than being an equal partner with the Armory in creating this neighborhood activity center.

Transportation Concerns

The East End Neighborhood Association’s (EENA) primary transportation concern with this application is an inadequate traffic impact study (TIS).  This is another reason for the city to deny/delay this application until a proper PUD, addressing the whole parcel and development of this important neighborhood activity center, has been submitted. The TIS only addresses the additional housing units and does not consider the traffic impacts of the future neighborhood activity center because the application does not include that part of the development. As such, our neighborhood could find our network with impacts that will go unaddressed until such time ACHD they become significant enough to receive funding for improvements after the neighborhood activity center exists.

Additionally, this TIS does not consider the full network impact of this development.  Any development at the Armory site will not only impact Reserve (included in the TIS), but also all of Avenue H and the Jefferson/McKinley/Franklin (JMF) corridor (not included in the TIS). We understand that the boundaries for the TIS are set by ACHD, and this is not the fault of the applicant.  However, we know that Avenue H and the JMF corridor will be impacted, and we also know that both already need improvements to calm traffic and improve safety.  In response to a speed study showing significant speeding, the Boise Police increased enforcement on this corridor and found excessive speeding volumes. It is important to note that Avenue H is identified as a key corridor used by many walkers and cyclists to access the foothills, nearby parks, and is part of the Safe Routes to School route to and from Roosevelt Elementary School.

The TIS concludes there is no need for additional improvements on Reserve. However, the East Boise Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan (approved by ACHD, December 2017) contradicts this. Reserve Street was identified by many in our neighborhood as requiring traffic calming and safety improvements for people walking and biking, as well as crossing this corridor, and we believe more are needed.

These include:

  • Crossing improvements at Mountain Cove and Avenue H
  • Sidewalk on the north side of Reserve from Mountain Cove to Shaw Mountain
  • 3-way stop at Reserve and Ave H.
  • 3-way stop at Avenue H and McKinley
  • Bicycle lane the entire length of Reserve

We request the city ask ACHD to reconsider this study area.

There are several opportunities for traffic calming on Avenue H—some identified in the East Boise Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan—not addressed in this application. Avenue H is identified as a key corridor used by many walkers and cyclists to access the foothills, nearby parks, and more. The plan calls for traffic calming measures on this corridor, and EENA is pleased that the applicant plans to complete the sidewalk along Avenue H adjacent to this property with a detached sidewalk. However, we ask the city to support our desire for this street to be built to the narrowest standard to keep speeds at 20 mph. We have requested curb extensions at Logan and Avenue H, and ask the city to ensure that this development will build a curb extension at its corner.

Our final opportunity is a long-requested improvement to the trail access immediately across from Avenue H, at the intersection with Reserve Street.  A well-used, heavily eroded trail leads pedestrians up the berm to the trail on top, the Bicycle Skills Park, and the entire trail network beyond.  We have tried working with Parks and Recreation as well as the Foothills management group to improve this with stairs.  We had requested and hoped this would occur in conjunction with development of the Bike Skills Park, though this did not happen.  It has been suggested to try and discontinue this use; however, since so many walkers come from Avenue H it is much more practical to simply improve the social trail.  The cost of improving this short section of highly used trail would have high returns on investment and we hope the applicant can recognize this as an amenity for their development and future tenants, both residential and commercial.

Finally, we do recognize that not all of these improvements should be part of this application.  However, we do not believe the application goes far enough to address its own impacts to both our neighborhood and the many users of multiple city amenities in the immediate area.

Historic Preservation

The letter of explanation mentions the desire for the applicant to make future improvements to the Nationally Registered Historic Armory building via a separate application process. The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation; the Armory was formally listed in 1999. Common threats against a historic place include encroaching development, neglect and lack of maintenance, natural hazards like floods and storms, and a lack of understanding of the significance of the place. If a threat is imminent, documenting what is there before it is destroyed may be the only viable option. However, the applicant offers zero detail or plans for what these future improvements entail in the way of maintenance, repairs, restoration, or rehabilitation to the historic Armory building. Negative impacts are not mitigable after the fact, and the lack of clarity on the applicant’s plans for the Armory makes this PUD insufficient and inappropriate, considering that the historic site and the new development are located on a single parcel. We ask that the developer be required to commission a local planner to create a plan for the Armory, seeking the advice of all interested parties. Funding for this may be available through the Idaho Heritage Trust.

EENA is requesting that written language for these plans be detailed and expanded to say that all future maintenance, repair, stabilization, rehabilitation, restoration, preservation, conservation, or reconstruction of the historical resource will be conducted in a manner consistent with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. There is currently no written disaster mitigation plan for the historic Armory building, yet the property is located within a flood plain, which must be addressed by the applicant. The language also needs to directly address the potential loss of this historic resource due to disaster or accidental/unplanned damage. EENA additionally requests the display of on-site and off-site historic documentation and multi-media interpretation, such as architectural drawings, written narratives or quotes, resin-coated signage, bronze plaques, artifacts/ pieces of the historic site (machinery, equipment, etc.), pamphlets, walking tours, etc. We ask that this assurance be in writing with a commitment to include these once the project is complete and open to the public.

Signs of Continued Neglect; Hope for Change

Pattern of Neglect

The EENA Armory Subcommittee members and preservationists have long expressed concern about the neglect of the Armory structure. The Armory was completed in 1937 by the WPA (Works Progress Administration), and has been identified for its historic importance by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Vandalism and weather have taken their toll, and missteps by J&M Land (the Bieter administration conveyed ownership of the 5-acre Armory property to them in (2012) trapped moisture in the concrete exterior. Since 2012, the building has been under remote control by outside speculative investors.

Below are a few representative examples of the ongoing neglect. Dozens of broken windows, vandals coming and going through breaches, roofing materials rotting, and painted concrete sills that remained sound for over 75 years but started spalling—eroding from moisture trapped on the surface because of paint applied by J&M.

Update November 14, 2022

On Monday, November 14, workers rushed to board up all windows on the Main Floor one week before the P&Z meeting application review. The crew also re-secured a breach on the South side of the building facing Logan Avenue. Vandals have long found ways into the structure and done significant damage over the decades.

As long as the building remains unoccupied, the risk of vandalism and weather damage persists and increases. Our hope is that a partnership with a local entity or consultant can secure local businesses and organizations to make use of the historic structure, consistent with its destiny and defined role as a Neighborhood Activity Center.

Armory Survey: Deadline Friday, April 7

Please contribute your thoughts!


The East End Neighborhood Association (EENA) is asking Boise residents for their thoughts on the planned development of the Reserve Street Armory. Deadline for comments is April 7th.
 
 
 
Explore this site for more Armory background and neighborhood perspectives.

URGENT! EENA Seeks Community Input thru 4/7

Oblique view of the light cream-colored Idaho National Guard Armory to the right of the image. The building consists of a 2- to 3-story barrel-vaulted center section, with a two-story section facing Reserve Street and a single-story section on the south side of the building. The three-story Shadow Mountain apartments and single story Cascadia nursing facility are to the left of the image.

Current view of the Armory profile from Military Reserve. This view of the historic building would be hidden behind a proposed multi-story residential development shown below at right.

The East Neighborhood Association (EENA) Board wants to hear your ideas about the armory and proposed development (learn more here, here and here).
 
April 7 Deadline: Please refer to this background piece and take 15 minutes and respond to the EENA/Armory Subcommittee survey here:
If you want or need more information, here are links to the site map and EENA’s neighborhood plan goals and more background information about the armory.

URGENT: The Alpha Development Group Neighborhood Armory meetings are scheduled for March 31 and April 1.*

*These are not official public hearings. They are informational only, but questions may be asked about the project if time allows.

Current plan view (left) and proposed new construction to the east (right).


  • For a brief history of the Armory’s past two decades, click here.
  • And to view the results of a past neighborhood visioning session facilitated by the University of Idaho Urban Research and Design Center, click here.
  • Selected comments over time can be found here.
  • This site contains a fair bit of information about what we’ve learned about the armory, similar structures in different communities (and how they’ve been repurposed), and lots of photos of the interior and exterior of the original structure.
  • Early Keynote Presentation developed for Mayor and Council: Armory WFHTF 6_11

East End Letters Reflect Neighborhood Concerns About Scale, Traffic and Housing Types

Following the January Public Information meeting hosted by the new Armory owner/developer representatives, a few neighbor concerns stood out:

  • the mass and scale of the development relative to the surrounding neighborhood
  • the lack of a master plan for the entire site or any clear vision for the Armory
  • traffic impacts on surrounding neighbors, local streets and public safety

Naturally, there is some tension here. On the one hand, locals view the Armory as part of Boise’s heritage and have been hoping for development reflecting local values and our need for affordable housing and an activity center. On the other hand are out-of-state investors who view the parcel as a commodity and who expect the development to generate the highest return on their investment. These two views are quite different.

This local view is summarized in an excerpt from a letter to EENA from a transportation/community planning professional living in the East End:

“What I would like to see is a proposal that includes a masterplan for the entire site, emphasizes the Armory building itself, the community use of the space, the neighborhood scale commercial, with much fewer residential units built at a scale that is in line with the existing community. I also would like to see any development that increases car traffic be required to mitigate the impact this will have on safety, noise, congestion and the impact on vulnerable users in particular.  However, I do not want to see the road capacity for cars increased, additional lanes for cars, traffic lights, etc. I would also like to see any housing to include affordable housing for individuals who live and work in the community.”

It’s true that the proposed 330-space parking structure and related traffic impacts would add considerably to those of other sources in the vicinity: the Bike Skills Park, the unrelated ‘Armory Ave Townhomes’ development on Avenue H, the existing Shadow Mtn Apartments and Shadow Mtn Rehabilitation/Nursing Facility, and the St. Luke’s expansion (1,200 + units of structured parking on Fort and 1st).

Satellite image showing a section of roadways and major sites in the vicinity of the proposed Armory development, with green lines indicating how traffic naturally flows in the area. Main structures and sites are indicated by colored shapes, and include the Armory, Bike Skills Park, Shadow Mountain Apartments, Armory Ave Townhomes and Fire Station #1..

Traffic patterns in and around the Armory. Green dashed lines indicate current and likely routes drivers will take through residential neighborhoods on roads that will be impacted as traffic volume and speed increase with surrounding development. Click to enlarge image.

For well over a decade, neighbors have been calling for a more comprehensive master plan of the area, along with a larger traffic study to anticipate and plan for the cumulative traffic burden impacting the area, which includes critical emergency response activity involving the Fire Station and St. Luke’s. This is also an area that handles Roosevelt Elementary School traffic (bike, pedestrian and vehicle) twice daily during the school year.

It’s also true—according to the stated plans—that the residential portion of the project will not include any units considered as ‘affordable’ under the federal definition of affordability (within reach of households at or below 80% of Area Median Income, or AMI) or as ‘workforce housing,’ with rents affordable to household incomes between 80% and 120% of AMI ($42K to $63K per year).

According to the 1/31 presentation, rents in the development would start at $2,000/month, which requires an annual salary of around $84,000, or a bit over $40/hour for full-time work. Boise’s average annual wage is currently $65K per year, or about $15K short of that needed for an entry level unit.

Boise currently has an historic shortage of housing types or price points that meet the needs and incomes of essential workers, largely as a result of outside private equity investment and speculation taking control of legacy housing inventory. This speculation has forced rents up and locals out. As the developer made clear during the recent informational meeting, ‘We don’t do affordable housing.’

Boise’s overall rental vacancy rate (for housing affordable to a full-time worker earning up to $20/hour) is currently 1.6%; that number is 0% in the 83712 zip code. Read more about housing considerations here. Roughly 70% of Idaho jobs pay less than $20/hour, and 66% of jobs pay less than $15/hour.

One neighbor’s letter seems to summarize the sentiments expressed by a number of participants:


Mr. Watson,

Thank you for the informative discussion yesterday evening about your proposed Armory project.  And thank you for making it possible to participate in person and by Zoom.

I have four comments about the proposed development (as I understand it from yesterday’s presentation).  

First, it appears to me that the proposed residential development is simply too large.  The primary structure seems much too massive in comparison with nearby structures.  The massiveness of the proposed residential structure overwhelms (in my opinion) the armory building.  Traffic created by the proposed 210 residential units and proposed (but not fully defined) commercial space will inevitably contribute to clogging in the general Broadway Ave corridor (especially when the already-approved St. Luke’s improvements are fully built out); traffic will then spill south into residential streets, impacting the general East End neighborhood.

Second, I appreciate your outlining various project criteria, including the need to have the project make economic sense.  However, it seemed to me that the economic question was being framed, in part, as a false choice.  It appeared from your “cheese block” explanation and subsequent comments that the starting point for the design was the absolute maximum development that could be fit onto the armory property, with any subsequent reductions representing a concession that could render the project uneconomical to build.  However, another approach would be to ask, “what minimum amount of development would provide an adequate return on money invested so far” (for the property purchase, conceptual design, and permitting efforts) and work up from there.  A smaller number of housing units would require less parking and less construction capital, and would represent less of a permitting challenge.  In other words, it seems that a scaled-back project should allow an adequate return and help fill a housing need, and result in a development that is much more in keeping with nearby structures, would fit better with the general surrounding neighborhood, would better honor the Armory building itself, and would have a lower traffic impact on the surrounding residential streets.

Third, I would highly encourage you to better scope out the entire development in the initial application, focusing on the Armory building (and associated commercial activities) and the residential portion.  My impression from yesterday’s presentation was that Alpha Group is currently focusing primarily on permitting the residential component of the development, with full plans for the Armory coming sometime later.  To assess neighborhood impacts adequately, it seems that the City should require a full development plan for the entire property in the initial application, not just the residential portion.

Finally, from the conceptual drawings shown last night I did not see any plan or architectural cues in the residential component that suggested a meaningful tie to the Armory building.  It came across like two different projects: (1) the massive parking-lot residential structure and (2) the Armory building.  A general site plan and a design for the residential structure that paid greater homage to the form and new function of the Armory building would, in my opinion, be much more in keeping with the City’s and neighborhood’s desire to honor the historical nature of the Armory building.

Again, thank you for your presentation yesterday, and for the opportunity to comment.

Christian Petrich

Boise, ID


We appreciate the thoughtful, respectful and constructive tone in the above letter, and the focus on actionable/reasonable considerations.

The Armory Subcommittee will work to further summarize neighborhood and community responses, concerns and recommendations as the process moves forward. We hope to find a balance that reflects both the values and interests of the local community with those of the out-of-state owners and investors.