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.