Below are reasons to oppose the ZCR that we have heard from the community. Feel free to copy and paste this into your own comments. Email your comments to those listed below. Alternatively, you can download the letter in Word format here:
Email comments for the Planning and Zoning Commission hearing using this address:
email@example.com and reference these application numbers: ZOA23-00001 and CPA23-00001.
Email comments to Mayor McLean and City Council using these addresses:
Mayor Lauren McLean and Council Members Holli Woodings, Luci Willits, Jimmy Hallyburton, Patrick Bageant, Latonia Haney Keith and Colin Nash
Mail comments to Mayor McLean and City Council to this address:
Mayor Lauren McLean and Boise City Council
Boise City Hall, 150 North Capitol Boulevard
Boise, Idaho 83702
Reasons to oppose the the Boise Zoning Code Rewrite
Revised March 18, 2023
The process of writing this code has occurred without widespread public input as a top-down effort, and neighbors have been left in the dark about its impacts. The majority of Boise citizens did not ask for these changes. The City has yet to directly tell the public how dramatically their neighborhoods will change due to the Boise Zoning Code Rewrite (ZCR). No prototypes showing “worst case” scenarios of infill in neighborhoods have been shown to the public so they may ascertain the impact on their homes. Now, in a very short period of time, the public must decode over 1000 pages of the ZCR and a Comprehensive Plan amendment without any guide to exactly what has changed from the current code.
A city council vote on the Zoning Code Rewrite must fully represent the voters instead of using appointed members of the city council. One-third of the city council will be appointed instead of elected, deciding the fate of the Zoning Code Rewrite a few short months before the November election. Only duly elected representatives should decide what to do about the ZCR. Proceeding to a decision with mayoral appointees is anti-democratic in principle, especially given the sweeping changes contemplated for a city council decision. Moreover, the final ZCR draft was only recently released. As citizens begin to learn and rush to learn how their neighborhoods will be affected by such a ZCR, the need is clear: this radical zoning change for the entire city requires a vote by everyone affected by the ZCR to decide who should decide the fate of the ZCR.
If implemented, the Boise Zoning Code Rewrite (ZCR) will worsen our lack of affordable housing. 77% of the City’s identified need for additional housing is for those who make 80% of the median income (City of Boise Housing Needs Analysis, 2021) while “affordability” incentives in Boise's largest zone (R1-C) only provide a small number of homes for those making 120% AMI (Area Median Income). By increasing density allowances, the new code incentivizes the redevelopment of existing affordable housing without any requirement to replace it. The result will be gentrifying existing neighborhoods with market-rate or above-market-rate multi-units.
Reducing the minimum lot size in R-2 and R-1C planning zones will not necessarily contribute to housing diversity nor affordability. High-density housing does not lead to affordability. If this were true, apartment rents in Boise would all be affordable. Additionally, the proposed fifty-year deed restriction on maintaining a dwelling unit as affordable is only enforceable if a special compliance office with enforcement authority is established.
New development standards will destabilize existing neighborhoods. Reducing lot sizes in R-1C and R-2 encourages lot splits and incompatible infill much denser than existing neighborhoods, destabilizing them and breaking faith with neighbors who believed the neighborhoods they were buying into were stable. Many of these areas are in parts of the city designated as “stable neighborhoods” in Blueprint Boise. Raising the height limit in residential zones will radically change the character of neighborhoods, reducing privacy, sunlight, and vegetation. Increasing housing density in the neighborhoods will contribute to increased congestion, traffic, on-street parking, and safety hazards for children and individuals with accessibility limitations. Changes to the Boise City Zoning Code should be written to protect neighbors rather than to destabilize their neighborhoods.
Boise’s R-2 zone has been re-conceived as a higher-density apartment zone similar to today’s R-3 zone. The East End, the old South Boise neighborhoods off Broadway, most of State Street, the Pleasanton neighborhood west of downtown, and established neighborhoods of the near Bench, among others, are envisioned to transform into highly urban areas with four-story buildings and no limit on density. These areas are currently single-family, mixed with duplexes and small apartments. Medium-density neighborhoods like these now contain many more dwelling units than suburbs, often from ten to 15 dwelling units per acre. Other areas – especially those south of Boise State University -- also bear a high-density burden in vehicles, noise, and short-term occupancies; the ZCR exacerbates those problems.
Neighborhoods near Fairview, State and Vista will become unrecognizable. The proposed code would rezone neighborhoods within 660 feet (about two blocks) of those corridors from R-1 to R-2 with 45-foot height limits and no limit on density, destabilizing modestly scaled interior neighborhoods. Instead, higher-density development should happen only on the corridors themselves with strict step-down height standards to the existing neighborhoods.
Owner occupancy for homes with ADUs will be removed and allowed ADU size will be increased. Today, a home with an accessory dwelling unit must have owner-occupancy of at least one of the two units. The new draft eliminates the owner-occupancy requirement for accessory dwelling units if one of the units is affordable. Boiseans loudly defended owner occupancy in a recent attempt by the City to eliminate it. This change will destabilize neighborhoods by creating de-facto duplexes in areas where they are not now allowed, de-incentivize homeownership, increase commercialized short-term rentals, and promote renting by the room in existing single-family houses. In addition, increasing the allowable size of an accessory dwelling unit from 700 to 900 square feet reduces livable green space. It essentially allows for building a second house in the backyard of an existing home.
Under the current zoning code, ADU applicants must provide proof of owner-occupancy on the property. However, it does not appear that adequate procedures are in place to ensure that the owner is actually occupying the dwelling. Lack of owner occupancy is widespread now. Why should Boiseans be confident that the City will enforce new standards that require affordability?
The ZCR does nothing to incentivize homeownership. Instead, the Boise Zoning Code Rewrite (ZCR) should incentivize the sale of individual units of cottage developments and other higher-density diverse housing (e.g. halves of duplexes, condos rather than apartments, etc.) to encourage owner-occupied housing and more resilient neighborhoods.
The ZCR encourages higher density in historic districts. Except for homes that are currently recorded as “contributing,” redevelopment and or demolition of non-contributing homes in Historic Districts under the Boise Zoning Code Rewrite (ZCR) will encourage higher density units with modern designs that will negatively impact existing homes and damage the historic character of these neighborhoods.
The new code lacks objective concrete standards to protect residential neighborhoods. For example:
• Industrial uses in the I-1 district “should” be buffered from adjacent residential, rather than “must.”
Live/work unit standards say “The work activities shall not create adverse noise or operational impacts on adjacent residential properties.” Yet no measurable standards are included to ensure compliance.
In the R-1B, R-1C, R-2, R-3, MX-1, and MX-2 zones, the standards for multifamily buildings state: “Building and site design shall provide for adequate transition into the surrounding neighborhood to ensure compatibility between the development and the context around it. Factors to be considered are setbacks, building height, building materials, bulk, roof design, parking area locations, and landscaped area locations.” The code should provide objective standards to ensure functional transitions.
The findings for conditional use permits are entirely subjective and have been loosened, to the detriment of neighbors. The current standards read: “The proposed use, if it complies with all conditions imposed, will not adversely affect other property of the vicinity.” The proposed language says, ”The proposed use will not create any material negative impacts to uses in the surrounding area, or any material negative impacts will be mitigated to the maximum extent practicable, or the public benefits of the proposed use outweighs any material negative impacts of the proposed use that cannot be mitigated;” (Italics added)
Intrusive uses will be allowed without public notice requirements. Uses like retail and neighborhood cafes, including those that sell alcohol, will be allowed by right side-by-side with existing single-family homes in R-1C and R-2 zones. Operating hours will be between 7 am and 8 pm, with no specified time limit on delivery and maintenance times, which will likely occur before and after open hours. Nothing in the new code specifies that these will be locally owned businesses and that the properties may indeed be owned by large investors purchasing residential housing units to operate commercial businesses. While envisioned as walkable amenities by the code, such businesses will very likely negatively impact neighboring residents’ ability to quietly enjoy their property.
The proposed notification requirements need to be revised.The draft Boise City Zoning Code limits the requirements of notification for changes in the use of single-family/household property to the adjacent property owner and occupants, including properties across the street and alleys. Following the Planning Director’s decision, the notice for appeal is only provided to residents within 300 feet of the proposed change of use. Change of use from single-family/household use to duplex, triplex, fourplex, or accessory dwelling units concern the entire neighborhood, not just those nearby. Notification requirements must be neighborhood-wide and include opportunities for comment and appeal prior to the Planning Director’s decision.
Proposed parking reductions will shift parking from on-site to on-the-street. To increase affordability, parking requirements have been reduced from two spaces per unit for single-family homes and duplex units to one space. The new standards do not mandate affordability in return for fewer spaces; the City pins affordability on hope instead of requiring it. This change reduces builders’ costs and increases their profits by pushing parking onto public streets, often already crowded due to existing infill development. In the current code, each building or dwelling requires a specific number of off-street parking based upon the occupancy and visitation capabilities and expectations based upon the approved uses of the building. Zoning-required off-street parking is necessary to avoid unsafe congestion on the street. It has been shown that on-street parking congestion is a major contributing factor to pedestrian/vehicle accidents involving young children and individuals with mobility hardships.
Only when a serious urban transit system is actually in place will it be realistic to plan for reductions in traffic instead of merely hoping for fewer cars and trucks on the road and parking on neighborhood streets.
The highly urban form the new code promotes will reduce non-built space.This will create significant tree and green space loss, and minimal permeable areas. Other likely results will include reduced wildlife habitat, reduced vegetation to absorb CO2, lower temperatures and buffer climate stress. Public and scientific recognition of the importance of urban greenspace has increased greatly in recent decades. Current parcel zoning and development changes that City bodies are granting already erode greenspace and urban forest canopy in our Boise neighborhoods. As written, the ZCR will accelerate these greenspace losses and rob the public of our right to comment on greenspace-altering development in the heart of our neighborhoods.
The Zoning Code Rewrite will eliminate Boise's power to negotiate with developers on a site-specific basis. Currently, Idaho law allows cities to require 'Development Agreements' (DAs) when developers request individual rezones. These DAs are essentially open-ended negotiations between Boise and developers to provide public benefits that otherwise are not required by city or state ordinance. For example, Boise can negotiate for truly affordable housing, for upholding policies of Blueprint Boise, for requiring access to a trailhead, or for dedication of public open space. However, because the ZCR grants these higher densities with one decision, the city will forever lose this critical power to negotiate. In so doing, the City of Boise will also abdicate most of its future power to respond to site-specific information and concerns from local residents.
The new code picks winners and losers. Increased density and height limits, reduced lot sizes, and more allowed uses will not affect neighborhoods with covenants, conditions, and restrictions mandating only one dwelling unit per existing lot. New rules will primarily affect older neighborhoods often inhabited by residents of modest income, whose only protections from incompatible development come from the Zoning Code and conditional use permits. The new code is a radical plan to eliminate single-family homes across large areas of Boise. It will displace and disrupt large segments of Boise's at-risk populations of tenants and senior citizens. The controversy of this proposal will tear Boise apart, creating controversy, resentment, and anger that will linger for decades and affect outcomes at election time.
The Boise City Zoning Code Rewrite suffers from overall poor quality of writing and is complex and cumbersome to use. The major terms used throughout the document are not consistently used and the document is full of unexplained terms, which are either not defined in the definition section or are not used in the ways that terms are defined. For example, using the term “Creative Housing Design” is neither a design nor a development standard. Creative housing design, therefore, is not a definable nor enforceable code standard for the design of buildings in R-2 or R-1C zones.