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Home / News / Business News / 680 homes were just approved in rural Ada County despite a 3-year-old ban. This is why

680 homes were just approved in rural Ada County despite a 3-year-old ban. This is why

Homes on West Mirror Pond Drive in the Dry Creek Ranch development off Highway 55 have been completed. Photo by John Sowell/Idaho Statesman

The developers of the controversial Dry Creek Ranch subdivision near Hidden Springs have just cleared what may be their biggest remaining legal obstacle to completing the 1,815-home development.

The Ada County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously last week to approve the project’s second, and last, preliminary plat. That authorizes the developer, Boise Hunter Homes, and its home-construction partners to put up 680 homes — 652 houses and 28 multiple-family units — on top of the 1,126 homes commissioners approved in the first plat two years ago.

The vote sets the stage for the final platting of each home site and an estimated 15 years of home building at the project, which is going up along Idaho 55 and Dry Creek Road north of Boise and Eagle. Builders have been busy since last year putting houses into the first plat, and early residents have started moving in.

Commissioners approved the homes despite continuing resistance from some neighbors and other local residents. The opponents worry about the loss of farmland, increased traffic on two-lane Idaho 55, wildfire danger, long emergency response times, water use and other potential problems.

The commissioners said their hands were legally tied by past commissioners’ approval of the overall development more than a decade ago.

NO MORE RURAL PLANNED COMMUNITIES

Today’s commissioners — Democrats Diana Lachiondo and Kendra Kenyon, and Republican Rick Visser — say they do not want to authorize any more large-scale developments like Dry Creek Ranch, Avimor, Hidden Springs and Cartwright Ranch outside of the county’s six cities.

“All the commissioners are on record saying that their philosophy is that growth with magnitude of this nature should occur in incorporated cities,” county spokeswoman Elizabeth Duncan said by phone.

They’re following the lead commissioners took in 2016 to prohibit any more such developments, called planned communities, in unincorporated rural areas.

Lachiondo, for example, contends that in-city development is more fiscally responsible and can help preserve the county’s remaining agricultural heritage and its quality of life.

The Dry Creek approval also comes as the city of Eagle is trying to back out of its pledge 12 years ago to annex Avimor, which is north of Dry Creek on Highway 55. Avimor is another development county commissioners approved in the mid-2000s.

More than 300 homes have been built at Avimor, and up to 10,000 are planned. Eagle’s mayor and City Council worry about the cost to taxpayers of serving Avimor with emergency, library and other services if they annex it.

But Avimor is fighting back, and its owners succeeded last month in helping to elect a friendlier mayor and City Council member who take office in January.

COSTLY HOMES AMID TODAY’S HOUSING BOOM

Set on what was once a family-owned ranch, Dry Creek Ranch is unfolding as home construction booms throughout the Treasure Valley, putting thousands of tradespeople to work and bringing financial rewards to developers. Yet construction isn’t happening fast enough to keep up with demand, and housing prices have soared at the nation’s fastest rate.

Dry Creek Ranch homes are pricey: One 3,200-square-foot, four-bedroom, five-garage home was being offered last week for $654,000. A 2,400-square-foot, three-bedroom house was offered for more than $550,000.

“So far demand has been really strong,” said Hethe Clark, a Boise lawyer representing Boise Hunter Homes, by phone. “Folks have been really excited with the community we have. A lot of people who live there came and testified in support.”

The commissioners tacked two more conditions onto the dozens set for Dry Creek before the 2017 approval. One requires home sellers or their agents to notify potential buyers that emergency response times will be higher than city residents are accustomed to. The other requires that buyers be told that elementary school children will be bused to available classrooms elsewhere until the West Ada School District builds a school on land set aside for it in the development.

Concept rendering of proposed fire station at Dry Creek Ranch subdivision north of Boise. Provided by Boise Hunter Homes via Ada County.

FOES SAY COMMISSIONERS SOLD THEM OUT

Opponents could still try to block the project, though they may face long odds. Stephanie Rael, leader of the Dry Creek Ranch Coalition, said the group is considering next steps. The coalition could ask the commissioners to reconsider their decision or appeal it to District Court.

The coalition mounted a petition drive in 2018 to put the development on the county ballot but fell short of the signatures needed.

“It is clear that the lofty promises of political candidates to bring about wise development decisions and the courage to say no to irresponsible development are no more than cheap campaign gimmicks,” Rael said in an email. “The Ada County Board of Commissioners just sold out the Dry Creek Valley and all its attendant values. Business as usual at Ada County.”

Dry Creek Ranch was one of seven planned communities proposed in Ada County in 2006, when home construction was booming before the housing crash and the Great Recession. County commissioners then approved up to 4,300 homes at Dry Creek, but nothing was built.

Then the economy recovered. Boise Hunter Homes bought the land and its development rights in 2016 and quickly moved to cut the subdivision’s proposed size by more than half.

Besides homes, the project is now planned to include a fire station to be built by the Eagle Fire Department, a commercial center, a community center, a community farm, trails and other amenities.

About David Staats Idaho Statesman