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Homes pictured under construction in Meridian. The community continues to grow exponentially, which according to city council members is creating issues in schools and housing affordability.

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MERIDIAN — Meridian and the West Ada School District will experience “a significant amount of pain,” if leaders can’t figure out how to manage growth and fund schools, West Ada school board Chair Amy Johnson warned at the Nov. 16 city council meeting.

Johnson, who was not at the meeting representing the board, spoke about the challenges facing south Meridian during a public hearing regarding the proposed Centerville Subdivision. The development would have 124 single-family lots, 79 townhome lots, four multifamily lots, four commercial and 34 common lots.

She focused on the impact to three schools: Hillsdale Elementary School, which she said is 59 students under capacity; Mountain View High School, around 200 students over capacity; and Lake Hazel Middle School, 49 students over capacity.

But the West Ada School District estimates 1,556 more students en route to Hillsdale, 1,479 to Lake Hazel and 3,170 to Mountain View, based on the developments already approved by the city of Meridian, Johnson said. And that is before considering the population impact of the proposed Centerville Subdivision.

“Now I want to tell you about what’s in the pipeline to help with those students,” Johnson said, standing at the podium. “Nothing ... that’s not your problem and I understand that. But I want you to understand the problem that’s coming at us.”

Meridian has grown from 35,000 residents in 2000 to 117,000 as of the 2020 census, which has sent the West Ada School District scrambling to keep up. The district saw at least nine years pre-pandemic of rising enrollments, the Idaho Press previously reported.

Idaho currently does not allow impact fees to fund school construction, the Idaho Press previously reported. School districts are allowed to use bond and levy elections to fund new or expanded facilities.

In the meantime, Johnson said West Ada has redrawn boundary lines and removed the cap on Hillsdale Elementary.

“We don’t have any more capacity even to bus kids, anymore,” Johnson said. “That’s not available in south Meridian anymore. That’s gone.”

Councilmember Brad Hoaglun said previously that developments were approved with the idea that students would be bused to a school in a different area.

The proposed development adds to the problem, Johnson said. A better opportunity would be something low-density or commercial, she added.

Both Councilman Luke Cavener and Councilwoman Liz Strader said the schools issue makes it hard to support residential projects in south Meridian without a plan for the area. Strader said the city was at “a game-changing moment.”

But compounding the issue is a changing Meridian and the need for affordable housing, which Strader described as a “massive” problem. She said more houses need to be built.

Boise is the least-affordable housing market in the United States and second least-affordable in North America, according to a recent Oxford Economics report, based on factors like home price inflation and income growth.

“The disconnect that I see, that I’ve had, is the fact that single-family homes ... are not what people can afford anymore. Heck, I can’t even afford the house I live in now,” Hoaglun said at Tuesday’s meeting. “When my kids go to look for a house now, it’s not going to be like the house I have.”

Hoaglun said he’s had to wrestle with a Meridian with more high-density and smaller homes, but added someone like an Albertsons clerk married to a city employee might only be able to afford a house that isn’t a traditional Meridian home.

Workforce housing is important, Hoaglun said.

“I would be uncomfortable turning this project down,” Hoaglun said. “I also would be uncomfortable approving it.”

The city council continued the public hearing to Jan. 4, 2022.

Carolyn Komatsoulis covers Meridian and Ada County. Contact her at 208-465-8107 and follow her on Twitter @CKomatsoulis.

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