Meridian City Hall generic by Brian

Meridian City Hall

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MERIDIAN — The Meridian City Council Tuesday passed two ordinances to approve plans for a new urban renewal district downtown.

Tuesday was the second public hearing on the ordinances, which will de-annex 16 acres from a current urban renewal district and create a new one, called Union District. The Meridian Development Corporation (MDC) has for several months developed plans for the new district.

There was no public testimony during Tuesday’s virtual meeting, and council members moved quickly through voting on the ordinances. Five council members voted in favor and Councilman Joe Borton abstained.

“It’s a great project and certainly meets the intent of urban renewal redevelopment,” said Council Vice President Brad Hoaglun at a June 2 hearing.

The next step for MDC to finalize the new district is to publish legal notices and send documents to county and state taxing entities.

The Union District spans about two city blocks, where planned development includes a new community center and a mixed-use development with apartments. Both projects are led by the Galena Opportunity Fund, a Boise-based developer.

MDC estimates the planned projects within the Union District will generate $16.3 million in tax increment revenue — the property tax revenue from increased market value — over the Union District’s 20-year life span. During that time, other taxing districts in the area will continue to receive property taxes from within the district’s boundaries, but only on the property’s value the year it was created. Any property tax revenue beyond that will go toward urban renewal over the life of the district.

Bill Truax, president of the Galena Opportunity Fund, last week assured council members that financing for infrastructure improvements within the Union District will be fronted by the developer. Galena will be reimbursed through increased tax revenues that Galena projects are expected to create.

The tax increment financing is primarily going to rely on the Union 93 project, Truax said, a mixed-use development that includes hundreds of apartments and retail space, across two 100-foot buildings, located on the southeast corner of Main Street and Broadway Avenue. Truax was optimistic about Union 93’s progress; the project still needs city council approval.

“We are currently working on design, development documents to bring to the city,” he said.

A similar Galena project to Union 93, a five-story apartment building in downtown Twin Falls, ran into a roadblock this week. On Monday, the Twin Falls City Council unanimously shot down the project proposal. The Masqueray Lofts proposal included 112 affordable and market-rate housing units, the Twin Falls Times-News reported.

But nearby residents rallied against the apartment building, saying it would reduce the availability of parking, harm the area’s historic charm and cause other disruption, the Times-News reported. Nearly 200 people wrote letters opposing the project, compared to just 17 in support.

Union 93 has drawn similar criticism from downtown Meridian business owners and Planning and Zoning commissioners, who approved a conditional-use permit for the project in March. Several downtown Meridian business owners testified at a February public hearing that they expected Union 93 tenants and shoppers will create parking problems for existing downtown businesses.

Plans for Union 93 include 385 apartments and about 28,000 square feet of retail space. Plans also include a parking garage in each of the two buildings that would provide a total of 550 parking stalls. A temporary parking lot with 109 spaces is also included, but it would primarily be used for Meridian City Hall employees, and office buildings are planned to replace the lot in the future.

Meridian Planning and Zoning Commissioner Bill Cassinelli said in February he opposed granting a conditional-use permit — which would allow Galena to build the 100-foot buildings despite a 75-foot restriction in city code — because the restriction “is there for a reason” and “I think we need to stick with that.”

“That will forever change the look of Old Town Meridian,” Cassinelli said. “(The buildings) will dwarf everything.”

Ryan Suppe is the Meridian reporter for the Idaho Press. Contact him at 208-465-8119. Follow him on Twitter @salsuppe.

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