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Boise’s zoning code rewrite unanimously passes Planning & Zoning Commission

An artist rendering of a multi-family housing unit of connected three-story townhomes. Dashed lines and measurements for setbacks and height are noted.
Screenshot, Boise Modern Zoning Code Project Report, Page 67
A photo at the top of the "dimensional standards" section of the proposed draft code for R1-C areas.

The first major rewrite of Boise’s zoning code in 60 years is headed for City Council consideration after getting the thumbs up from Boise’s Planning and Zoning Commission Thursday night.

The approval comes after nearly 20 hours of staff and public testimony before the Commission this week, and years of work behind the scenes to draft the changes.

Commissioner Chris Blanchard praised the work of staff following a high level of turnover in the planning department.

“We went without a planning director in this city for 18 months, and that Director [Tim] Keane could come in here and even remember where the bathroom is - let alone the names of the staff... it is amazing,” Blanchard said, adding that many staff “abandoned ship” during that time.

The code updates allow for greater housing density and flexibility, expanding mixed residential and commercial zones into more areas of the city.

Long-time Commissioner Milt Gillespie said it levels the playing field of growth across the city.

“Without this new zoning code, I believe that the western and southern parts of our city will continue to bear a disproportionate amount of change and accommodation as we grow,” he said.

Much of this week’s negative feedback centered on reduction in parking requirements and the potential that new multi-family housing could change the face of existing neighborhoods.

But the city’s goal is to create areas residents can comfortably live in with fewer cars, and increasing the number and type of residences to bring down the cost of housing.

Because state law prohibits cities from requiring housing units be below market rate, part of what’s known as ‘inclusionary zoning,’ the city chose to incentivize certain practices in the code.

“This is a very important objective,” Commissioner Danley said during Thursday’s question-and-answer session with staff. “It's the density part, we know that. It's obviously parking reductions and laying that out and being very black and white and saying,’here are all the ways we're trying to be creative by addressing housing of all different incomes, because we are doing this with one hand tied behind our back.’”

Danley encouraged people to lobby state lawmakers to change the prohibition on inclusionary zoning.

Commissioners Thursday peppered staff with their own questions, and concerns brought by the public during this week’s testimony. Some concerns were based on misunderstanding the proposed code, others led Commissioners to offer recommendations for the City Council to consider when it hears the proposed changes in June.

Gillespie noted some inconsistencies in the way smaller parcels planned for division are evaluated, and the ways the neighboring public is notified of any subdivision requests.

The city has streamlined in the new code some aspects of permitting process, to speed up development of certain styles of new buildings.

“I would suggest again, that we maintain the same level of notifications that we have now as we walk through these changes in R-1 zones,” he said. “And if in a year or two or three years we want to reduce that, we reduce it then. But right now, my recommendation would be to essentially try to retain the same level of notification for these very small subdivision creation exercises.”

Commissioners agreed calls to delay or pause the process due to two appointees on the City Council, and elections this fall for every council seat and the mayor’s office were outside their responsibility.

“Anyone is free to make the delay argument to the Council, and it is in their power to delay consideration if they choose to. I leave that political decision to them,” Commissioner Gillespie said.

The code rewrite has been in progress since 2020, with dozens of open houses and hearings and thousands of public comments and survey responses gathered at different stages of development.

The public will have additional chances to comment on the proposed zoning code changes when the issue is heard by the City Council in June.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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