‘The lack of transparency was really appalling.’ Neighbors fight Boise’s Murgoitio land swap

·6 min read

Some Southwest Boise residents say they are frustrated over the lack of transparency surrounding Boise’s consideration of an annexation and land swap deal that would give the long-promised Murgoitio park land to a housing developer.

More than 400 people signed up to attend the Boise Parks and Recreation Department’s virtual meeting about the annexation on Thursday night. Many attendees left feeling that they did not get important information, including the name of the developer wanting to build or details on the Foothills land being considered in the swap.

“During their meeting, they said they did not have to disclose anything, because it was just a neighborhood meeting and not a ‘public meeting,’ ” said Alexandria Danilovich who, like many if not most of the attendees, lives outside city limits near the park site. “They should be one in the same. They did it virtually again, so our questions were either skipped through or just not answered most of the time.”

More than 250 questions were submitted during the meeting to the presenter, Parks and Recreation Department Superintendent Jennifer Tomlinson. Tomlinson did not answer most of them. The mood of the meeting grew tense as some attendees wrote into the Zoom that Tomlinson was being “disrespectful” to Southwest Boise. Tomlinson said the questions she couldn’t answer involved information she was not authorized to share yet.

“The lack of transparency was really appalling,” Danilovich said Monday by phone.

Fellow Southwest-area resident David King took issue with Tomlinson saying she could not speak to the city decision made in the 1990s about Murgoitio.

“The entire matter is about what you did back in the ‘90s,” King said Monday by phone. “That’s the case we’ve got here. That’s the dispute. You put it in writing back in the ’90s that you were going to give us a park. Now you can’t speak to that?”

The annexation is intended to incorporate 160 acres of land known as the Murgoitio (pronounced Mer-GERT-ee-o) parcel into Boise. Though owned by the city, it lies just outside city limits. The city has planned to build a large regional park there since 1997.

The city is considering swapping the Murgoitio parcel, which stretches for a mile between South Cole and South Maple Grove roads just north of the New York Canal, with a developer who wants to build houses there. In exchange, Boise would receive land in the Foothills, which are 20 to 30 minutes away for most Southwest residents.

Seven acres of the Murgoitio parcel would still become a small park, which the developer would pay for and then give back to the city. The city is looking into making an additional 40 acres of Boise School District land that adjoins the northern border of the Murgoitio site available to the public. The school district land and a small piece of airport property would also be included in the annexation. No homes would be annexed.

The majority of residents have expressed anger at losing their long-promised park and worry about housing density if the swap happens.

“That they’re trying to push this through as fast as possible without giving us an opportunity to properly fight back is very, very disheartening,” Danilovich said.

New nonprofit is fighting back

On Saturday, Danilovich and King announced the formation of Friends of Murgoitio Park, a group dedicated to fighting the land swap. Friends of Murgoitio Park, Inc. filed for 501(c)(3) status as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization on June 17.

“I want to fight this with my whole heart,” said Danilovich, who has lived in the Southwest area since 2012. “I moved to that area because we were promised that park.”

Friends of Murgoitio Park plans to fight the land swap through both community activism and the courts. The group has hired Boise-area attorney Brian Ertz. It is raising money for legal fees and marketing materials, according to its Facebook page and website, saveourpark.net.

“I’ve never seen anything this egregious,” said King, who used to practice property law. “We’re going to have a long list of legal and environmental issues that we’re going to raise. But it’s matter of getting the city to do the right things before we have to sue over this.”

The annexation would include the 160 acres of Murgoitio land, the bordering Boise School District land and a small piece of airport property that lies outside city limits.
The annexation would include the 160 acres of Murgoitio land, the bordering Boise School District land and a small piece of airport property that lies outside city limits.

Before the question-and-answer period, Southwest Boise residents learned several new pieces of information at Thursday’s meeting during Tomlinson’s presentation.

According to Tomlinson, the Foothills land offered by the developer is “the best opportunity for getting canal connectivity, pathways and park space development” and the developer would build affordable housing on Murgoitio. As part of the agreement, all new units would be sold for below the area’s median home-sales price.

“The city is looking at all options on the table as far as trying to address our critical housing shortage,” she said.

City would pay airport for breach

In 1993, the city airport purchased the land from the Murgoitio family for $1.2 million. Then in 1998, the Parks and Recreation Department bought the land from the city airport. At that time, the Boise City Council put in place formal land covenant agreements between Parks and the airport.

Parks and Recreation agreed that it would not put residential developments on Murgoitio and the land would be used only for public recreation. Breach of those covenants would result in reversion of the land to the airport.

The City Council has the power to undo these resolutions. However, the airport will be reimbursed $620,000, the original purchase price of the land, for the breach.

Southwest’s $10 million in impact fees will not go to Murgoitio Park

Southwest Boise and unincorporated Ada County builders pay impact fees to the city of Boise. Those fees include park impact fees.

“The city has collected approximately $10 million in park impact fees since 1997 in the Southwest,” Tomlinson said.

Many residents thought these would go to building Murgoitio Park. Tomlinson said they did not. Molenaar Park and Peppermint Park received $4.3 million of Southwest’s impact fees. Regional parks, including Ann Morrison and Esther Simplot, received $6.2 million.

Molenaar will be getting a new playground and splash pad, Tomlinson said. The contracts for those improvements were signed the week of June 7, she said.

How the public can get involved

Friends of Murgoitio Park will hold its first meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at 8172 W. Thunder Mountain Drive.

Applications for annexation and land-amendment maps will be submitted to the city’s Planning and Development Services department by June 29. Planning and Development will present those to the Planning and Zoning Commission tentatively by Aug. 9. Planning and Zoning will make a recommendation to the City Council, which will make the final decision.

The City Council will consider two resolutions: one to annex the property and one to remove the covenant agreements barring residential developments on Murgoitio. Both proposals will have public hearings. Nothing has been scheduled yet.

For those wanting to comment on the land swap, the Parks and Recreation Department is asking people to email bpr@cityofboise.org. To comment on the annexation and land use amendment, email zoninginfo@cityofboise.org.

Sally Krutzig covers Treasure Valley growth and development. Have a story suggestion or a question? Email Krutzig at skrutzig@idahostatesman.com.

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