Affordable apartment building proposed on Boise West Bench

Hundreds of apartments for low-income people could be coming to Boise’s West Bench near the Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center campus.

Though still in a preliminary phase, plans call for 201 affordable apartment units in a five-story building, according to permit filings with the city of Boise. The building would have parking on the ground floor and four stories of housing above.

The city’s top planner says the project is just what Boise needs. But the head of the local neighborhood association is raising objections.

The building would include 50 studios, 80 one-bedroom apartments, 59 two-bedrooms and 12 three-bedrooms. The site is 6160 W. Denton St., catty-corner from Liberty Park and just south of West Emerald Street, where a Valley Regional Transit bus line runs.

City leaders have targeted building more housing along transit lines. Medical services are nearby given the proximity to the Saint Alphonsus campus.

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This rendering shows a view from a private drive next to the apartments. GGLO

As of now, there’s no city involvement, but there could be a partnership with the Our Path Home program to offer supportive housing services. City Planning Director Tim Keane said he supports the proposed apartments. Keane said they’re aimed at people earning 60% or less of the area median income.

“This is an important example of providing housing diversity in Boise such that we can accommodate people of all income levels,” Keane said by phone. “The mayor talks about it all the time: a city for everyone. That requires we find places for a variety of types of housing.”

The proposal comes as Boise experiences a deep housing shortage, especially for people earning lower incomes. The proposal is a partnership between Hawkins Cos., of Boise, which owns the land; and developer The Pacific Cos., of Eagle, which specializes in multifamily housing. Consultant Shellan Rodriguez of Boise’s SMR Development’s is representing The Pacific Cos.

The companies involved aren’t sharing much about their plans. Hawkins Cos. directed questions to Rodriguez, who said plans are still being ironed out. A call to Pacific Cos. was not returned.

According to a recent analysis, the city of Boise says that to keep up with demand, it needs 2,145 new housing units each year for people earning 80% of the area median income or less. In February, Mayor Lauren McLean announced a plan to partner with developers to create 1,250 housing units in the next five years for people earning 60% or less of the area median income.

The area median income varies based on household size. For a three-person household, 80% of Boise’s median income is $60,650 per year, according to the city of Boise.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says households spending more than 30% of their income on housing are considered cost burdened.

One thing the permit application does reveal is that the Pacific Cos. is applying to use Boise’s Affordable Housing Bonus Ordinance. That would allow the building to be taller than the typical 45-foot maximum allowed in limited office zones, which this parcel falls under. The proposal says the building would reach 58 feet at its peak.

John Perrine, president of the Liberty Park Neighborhood Association, said he opposes the height of the proposed five-story building. Three or four stories, he said, would be more acceptable. He said his concerns are more about the size of the building rather than the lower-income population it would be built for.

Perrine said he’s worried residents on higher floors could overlook the Ada County Juvenile Detention Center’s courtyard, which is directly west of the apartment site, potentially creating a privacy issue. Saint Alphonsus buildings are to the north and east.

Since the site is surrounded on three sides by non-residential uses, Keane said it’s a good fit for the neighborhood. The medium-size apartment building would serve as a transition from single-family houses on the south.

“The housing-bonus ordinance was enabled to allow this type of development,” Keane said. “We have a site that’s ideal for this.”

6160 W Denton St Google Earth drone view
This view looking north shows the site of a proposed affordable apartment building at 6160 W. Denton St. surrounded by the Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center campus to the north, Liberty Park to the southwest and the Ada County Juvenile Detention Center’s to the west. Google Earth

Perrine moved to Boise two and a half years ago from Memphis, Tennessee, and lives a few blocks west of the site. Despite the 10-floor Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center nearby, he said the building wouldn’t fit the neighborhood.

“We’re doing everything we can to guard our neighborhood,” Perrine said by phone, “and keep it cozy with as little invasive structures (as possible).”

Bench area once targeted for urban renewal

The site, for now, is empty. It’s in a part of the city that has long seen disinvestment and deteriorating conditions.

In 2019, when former Mayor David Bieter was still in office, Boise’s urban renewal agency considered a new urban renewal district on the Bench along Vista Avenue, Overland Road, Latah Street and Orchard Street. The proposed Denton Street apartments would have been inside that district. But plans for the district faded after Lauren McLean unseated Bieter in the 2019 election.

Nearby the proposed apartments is Boise’s longstanding fuel-tank farm, which stores gasoline and jet fuel carried by an underground pipeline from the Salt Lake City area. Boise developer Tommy Ahlquist and an out-of-state development partner proposed in 2019 to relocate the tank farm near the Boise Airport and replace it with high-density housing and businesses. That plan has not advanced either.

The apartment site is within Boise’s only opportunity zone, meaning the area is designated by the federal government as “economically distressed,” and new development is eligible for preferential tax treatment. The opportunity-zone program is designed to spur investment in struggling areas.

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This rendering shows the view from West Denton Street. GGLO

The apartments’ ground floor would have a leasing manager’s office, office space or day care, community room, fitness area, mail room and bicycle storage. A courtyard is planned on the second floor.

The Pacific Cos. is already working on other affordable housing projects in Boise. It’s developing the site of the old Smoky Davis meat shop at 3912 W. State St. west of Veterans Memorial Parkway. That project is planned to be a five-story apartment building with 35 units for households earning less than the local median income and five for people experiencing chronic homelessness.

The Eagle company is also planning a second New Path apartment building, for people who have experienced chronic homelessness, at 2216 W. Fairview Ave., next to the 40-unit New Path building that opened in 2018. It would have 100 apartments and offices for supportive services.

A potential timeline for the West Denton Street project isn’t yet known as costs and financing are still being worked out.

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