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A word with Doug Fowler: ‘We have plenty to do’

Doug Fowler said Harris Ranch isn't even one fifth of the way toward completion. Photo by Patrick Sweeney.

After years of planning and waiting, Harris Ranch is growing at a steady pace. The east Boise development, slated for 400 acres of the planned 1,100-acre space, had 65 homes sold last year at a value of $22.5 million. Four home builders work with Doug Fowler, project manager of the development.

Building at Harris Ranch began in 1998. The project had 500 homes built when construction was halted around 2004, giving Fowler and interested parties time to plan the future of the development. While on hiatus, developers worked to receive City of Boise approval of the city’s first specific-district ordinance. The specific zoning code and Harris Ranch planning documents outline future building plans and can shorten the regulatory process for new projects that conform to plans. Building picked up again after the ordinance was in place and the East Parkcenter Bridge, a multi-lane Boise River crossing providing another route to downtown, was completed in 2009.

Fowler, who has three people on staff at an office in the Mill District in the middle of Harris Ranch, is quick to point out all of the planning that’s gone into Harris Ranch’s design, from alleys and footpaths connecting houses to millions of native seeds planted along a new section of the Boise River Greenbelt, which was completed last year.

How built-out is Harris Ranch now?

We’re not even at 20 percent. Depending on the market, we’ll be out here for another 10 to 20 years.

What will the next section of commercial development look like?

We call it Bown Crossing on steroids. It’s about triple the size of Bown Crossing. We’ll also have a 7.5-acre village green that can have a restaurant on it.

What are you working on now?

We are in negotiations with four users, ranging in use from a convenience store to apartments. There’s always a lot going on. That’s besides getting lots designed, and construction drawings and permits, and getting them built.

These are four users that want to be out here and buy specific property. If they go forward, probably two of them will be in the ground by the end of the year. We have plenty to do.

What was the purpose of getting the specific plan ordinance for Harris Ranch?

We did it up front to take the guesswork out for everybody, so the homeowners know what’s coming, what’s going to be across the street or what can be across the street, what the design is generally going to look like. It keeps everybody happy and pointed in the same direction. It just takes a lot of upfront time and money.

Even though we were approved, because of the economy, we didn’t go out and build any lots until we had them sold. Even now, we’re building 68 lots and we have 64 of them sold. The only reason we haven’t sold the other four is because we don’t want to. We want to hold them in inventory.

Was the waiting a tough decision to make?

Oh, yeah. No one knew what was going on in the world. When you don’t know what’s going on in the world, it’s usually best to sit tight, because you’re probably going to guess wrong. From the last part of 2007 through most of 2011 were pretty bleak, not just in Boise but around the country. The Harris family has been at this for a long time. The first thing they worked at was their mission statement.

Why is wildlife mitigation a key component to the development?

It’s not just because it’s the right thing to do, which it is. It’s been proven that property values are sustained and enhanced when you’re protecting the amenities that are bringing people to your project. Would you pay a little more if you could see a bald eagle when you’re barbecuing? Probably. Taken to the extreme, when you go down to the Boise River, would you rather catch trout or catch cholera? That may not be a good example, but it gets the point across.

Much of the new development in the Treasure Valley is west of Boise. How is that affecting Harris Ranch?

I think the location is hard to beat. You’re five (miles) from downtown and you’ve got the foothills five minutes away and the river another five. There’s a lot going on in Meridian and there are some good projects in Meridian. They’re different and more suburban in nature. This was a good fit for this location.

How would increasing prices for lumber, drywall and other building products affect building here?

That could slow it down, but that’ll happen to everybody. If the economy slows down, we’ll slow down. We don’t anticipate peaks and valleys. Some curves and some speed bumps, yeah, but that’s inevitable. Every business doesn’t grow in a straight line. We’re pretty optimistic about going forward.

Everybody in the community has something to gain if Harris Ranch goes forward, and everybody has something to lose if it doesn’t. It’s not going to do anybody any good to have the Greenbelt stop at Eckert Road. We all have a reason to collaborate and go forward. It wouldn’t look very good for the highway district if all of a sudden we stopped. Some people might ask why they built that $22 million (East Parkcenter) Bridge if there isn’t any development going on. We all have a reason to cooperate and work together.

It’s when you get one side that’s taking all the heat and everybody else isn’t that you run into problems. If everybody’s got a little something to gain and everybody’s got a little something to lose, that’s a good way for a project to be structured.

About Brad Iverson-Long

Brad Iverson-Long is a reporter for the Idaho Business Review, covering banks, financial services, technology and new business.