BOISE — At the southern end of the Vista neighborhood, 60 acres of undeveloped farmland present a range of possibilities for neighbors, the property owners and developers alike.
On Monday, the Vista Neighborhood Association sent an open letter to the city of Boise requesting that Mayor Dave Bieter focus city resources on purchasing all or part of the parcel in order to turn it into a park. The letter pointed to a 1999 comprehensive plan for the neighborhood that found that section of the neighborhood is deficient in parks. It also cited the importance of open space to a rapidly growing community.
But city officials and the Simunich family that owns the land said building a park on the site is not so simple.
Vista Neighborhood Association President Henry Wiebe heard about potential development on the parcel and inquired further. He eventually filed a records request for city emails related to the property and turned up conversations that happened in late 2017 in which a Simunich family representative offered to sell the property to the city. An Oct. 23, 2017, email from Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway inquiring about the sale to Bieter and his Chief of Staff Jade Riley went unreturned, and Wiebe alleges in his letter to the city this meant the city ignored the proposal and bypassed on a new park for the neighborhood.
“Mayor/Jade, looks like the Simunich property is going to become available again,” Holloway’s email, which the Idaho Press obtained from Wiebe, stated. “I realize we have no funding and are not considering or accepting future projects. I can meet with them to see if a donation is a possibility, but my message will be we have no funding to purchase unless you say different.”
When asked about the possible park, city spokesman Mike Journee pointed to a Nov. 16, 2017, email in which Parks Superintendent Jennifer Tomlinson reached out to Andy Mehl from the Simunich family to ask what the selling price for the property would be. She received no response, Journee said.
“We did get back to them and there was not a response at that point,” Journee said. “Because we had other things and if they didn’t respond to that, perhaps it wasn’t a top priority for them. So we focused on other things.”
Mehl said he did not remember receiving an email from the city inquiring about the price. Instead he said the family was working toward subdividing the parcel so part of it could be sold for development. This application was filed in May of last year, but it expired after the 33 different family owners of the property tried to work out how to proceed.
“We’ve had several offers made on it, but as of yet we haven’t accepted any of them,” he said. “We had quite a few offers, everything from cash to wanting terms and wanting approval from the city before going forward.”
City emails obtained through a records request by Wiebe found preliminary conversations between city staff and a representative from the Conger Management Group in spring 2018 about the possibility of putting 250 homes on 40 acres of the parcel. However, plans for the subdivision were not submitted formally to the city, and the parcel is still for sale.
Currently Vista only has Shoshone Park, located on the western edge of the neighborhood. Wiebe said the lack of open space in the area should be prioritized by the city as the Boise Bench and other neighborhoods get developed with infill projects, leaving residents increasingly boxed in.
“Open space and parks are what binds community,” he said. “It’s what flattens socioeconomic interactions. And as this city continues to impose their will in changing code and development direction for greater development density to obtain cheaper housing options for all of the people who want to move here, there is a deep need to create more parks.”