McCall to get gigabit internet service by next summer

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A lot of people have already signed up to get high-speed internet access in McCall. Map courtesy of city of McCall

Following the lead of other small Idaho cities such as Ammon and Emmett, McCall is creating a fiber-optic infrastructure, Rapid McCall, to provide up to 1 gigabit per second internet service to homes by next summer.

McCall will install, own and manage an “open access” fiber backbone and fiber connections to homes, while service providers such as CenturyLink, Sparklight (formerly CableOne) and others would run their services over the network, explained Chris Curtin, information systems manager for McCall. The city will prioritize installing fiber based on homeowner interest, which it is gauging through a “heat map” that lets people sign up.

“Effectively, we are separating the physical infrastructure, the wires in the ground, from the service itself, the actual connectivity to the internet,” Curtin said. “If we had three or four different providers offering service in McCall, they all would use one network, as opposed to each installing infrastructure to your house.”

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Andrew Mentzer

“It’s dangerously similar to Ammon,” said Andrew Mentzer, executive director of the West Central Mountains Economic Development Council.

Broadband as an economic development tool

Mentzer’s organization has been promoting the development of broadband internet in McCall since at least 2018, both to service local businesses and to encourage refugees from expensive cities such as Seattle and San Francisco to work remotely in McCall.

In fact, during the region’s third annual economic development summit, held in October 2018, participants agreed the lack of sufficient broadband internet was the community’s biggest barrier to economic and community development. In May, the organization held a four-hour meeting to focus on improving broadband internet in the region.

But the Rapid McCall project is, for now, focusing on homeowners, Curtin said. Businesses typically have higher use, so the rates will likely be higher, but the city hasn’t developed pricing for businesses yet, he said.

On summer weekends, primarily due to the influx of people, both traditional internet and cellular data are almost unusable, Curtin said.

“It’s one of the biggest concerns we have going up here,” he said. “Whenever we do a survey and talk with the citizenry, it’s the No. 1 or No. 2 most-cited issue.”

How do you pay for it?

McCall is setting up a local improvement district to fund development of the network.

“It’s an opt-in model,” Curtin said.

People who want the service sign up for it, and the city installs a fiber connection to their home. The result could be that two neighborhoods side-by-side might have different pricing depending on the number of people who sign up, he said. In general, though, it will cost about $15 per month for access to the backbone and $15 per month, over a 20-year period, to pay for the hookup to the house.

Alternatively, people could pay $3,000 upfront for the house hookup, Curtin said. In addition, the hookup is considered a lien on the house, so when a house is sold, the hookup is paid for out of the proceeds, meaning that future owners of the house won’t have the $15 per month charge, he said.

Some of the backbone is already there, linking city services such as the water treatment plant and City Hall, Curtin said. The city added extra “dark fiber” and conduit when it was working on roads this summer, using its “dig once” policy.

McCall will be responsible for maintaining the network and, if a problem is determined to be from the service provider rather than hardware, it will do a “warm handoff” to transfer the homeowner to the right person at the service provider, Curtin said. This avoids a finger-pointing situation where the city and the service provider each blame the other for an outage.

Compared with current services, which in best case are 100 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 15 Mbps upload, the new service is likely to be ten times faster for $10 to $15 less per month, Curtin said.

McCall to open coworking space

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Community Hub McCall is a coworking space for nonprofits and small businesses. Photo courtesy of CUB McCall

McCall is opening a coworking space intended for nonprofits and local startups.

Known as “CUB McCall,” for “Community Hub,” the building will operate in partnership with Luminaire, a McCall-based business.

“They’re handling the nuts and bolts,” said Andrew Mentzer, executive director of the West Central Mountains Economic Development Council.

The space, which is scheduled to open on Nov. 15, is intended to be a regional hub and will have room for about five nonprofits, two businesses, and one startup, Mentzer said. It will include WiFi, a lounge and meeting space, as well as a meditation studio and informal kitchen.

“It’s going to be a great meeting space, teaching space and learning space,” he said, adding that he’s excited about what it could do for the community.

The look will be like a boutique hotel lobby, with furniture that can be moved around its 750-square-foot space, Mentzer said. The space can likely support from five to eight organizations of one or two people each, or 10 to 15 people total with them coming and going, he said.

The building is hosted by Luminaire, which offers meditation and humanities classes.

The West Central Mountains Economic Development Council is moving to the facility, Mentzer said. The Ponderosa Center, which is working to help develop a $20 million performance venue for downtown McCall, is also considering setting up shop there, he said. There are discussions with other local nonprofit organizations that Mentzer said he couldn’t name.

At $75 per month, the space is “really affordable,” he said. “We expect to have a packed house by the end of November.”

The organization is also accepting sponsorships of furnishings for the meeting space. “It’s working well so far. We have close to $1,000 in pledges or cash in hand,” said Renée Silvus, owner of Luminaire, in an email message.

McCall gears up to provide broadband internet

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McCall, an outdoor mecca, hopes to offer better broadband internet to attract tech workers. File photo.

McCall hopes to become a destination for tech workers, and it is looking to broadband internet to attract them.

In response to an economic development summit last fall that found the McCall region had insufficient broadband internet, a regional organization held a meeting that is expected to lead to a feasibility study to improve it.

The West Central Mountains Economic Development Council held its third annual economic development summit in October. At the time, participants agreed that the lack of sufficient broadband internet was the community’s biggest barrier to economic and community development.

The organization has been trying to encourage tech workers from expensive regions such as San Francisco and Seattle to migrate to their area and telecommute, and to attract young talent in general, but high-speed, reliable internet is necessary.

On May 17, the organization held a four-hour meeting to focus specifically on broadband internet in the region.

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Andrew Mentzer

“The intent of the meeting was to educate folks about options for enhanced broadband, introduce them to some successful models and ask them to sign on as stakeholders for an action plan that will include a middle- and last-mile feasibility study, and eventual build-out of new infrastructure, once a specific course of action is determined,” said Andrew Mentzer, executive director of the council.

Most of the local attendees, whom Mentzer did not name, signed on, he said.

The details of exactly how broadband internet might be implemented in the region won’t be known until the organization does a feasibility study, Mentzer said.

“Our region has several unique factors that might present challenges – or opportunities,” he said. “This will be a long-term project. For now, we’re focused on outreach and defining a process that will point us in the right direction.”

Next, Mentzer said the priorities are finding funding for the feasibility study and a consultant experienced in rural, low-density modeling. In addition, the region may ask cities and counties to pass a declaration that broadband is an “essential service,” he said.

Speakers included representatives from the cities of Ammon and Emmett, which have gained nationwide renown for stringing and running their own fiber-optic networks.

Other speakers included Jeremy Pietzold, a member of the city council in Sandy, Oregon, which runs its own fiber-optic network; Rich Sykes, mayor of Mountain Home, who is working to set up a fiber-optic network; Chris Curtin, systems engineer for the city of McCall; Robert Peterson from Entrypoint Solutions, a Salt Lake City-based company that has worked with Ammon; Mark Erikcson of the Economic Development Authority of Winthrop, Minnesota; and Deb Socia, Chris Mitchell and Cat Blake from Next Century Cities, an East Coast nonprofit that encourages broadband internet development and co-sponsored the event, according to the organization’s website.

McCall region looks to grow, starting with broadband

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McCall and the rest of west central Idaho faces challenges with workforce and housing. Photo by Fiona Montagne.

Idaho’s west central mountain communities such as McCall, Donnelley, and Cascade are trying to attract workers to improve their economic development, and they see improved broadband internet access as one avenue.

“It’s a community issue,” said Andrew Mentzer, executive director of the West Central Mountains Economic Development Council, who recently led the region’s third annual economic development summit, which sold out several events and attracted approximately 150 people. “It’s the biggest barrier to economic and community development.”

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Andrew Mentzer

The region recently embarked on a project to encourage high-tech workers from expensive regions like San Francisco and Seattle to telecommute from their area, but for that to work, high-speed, reliable internet is required.

Fast, reliable internet is also necessary to attract young talent to an area, Mentzer said.

Mentzer hopes to leverage funding such as grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which, along with the Federal Communications Commission, recently awarded almost $2 million to improve broadband internet access in rural Idaho communities. Idaho reportedly has the slowest internet speed in the country, and other cities and regions are looking for alternatives to improve it.

“There are USDA funds on the horizon to upgrade broadband capacity,” he said. “Our existing providers are making upgrades, and we want to work with them.”

The group is also working with the Idaho State Department of Commerce.

McCall is also upgrading its fiber optic infrastructure in its downtown as part of a street rebuilding project.

Other issues the region confronts are a lack of workers and affordable housing, as an increasing number of housing units become vacation homes or short-term rentals and consequently unavailable or too expensive for employees in the travel and tourism sector for which the region is known – another reason the region is trying to attract tech workers.

For housing, the group presented a draft white paper to cover low-hanging fruit in the area, including modular and container housing, smaller-footprint housing and housing clusters, Mentzer said. In addition, the group wants to find people willing to have such housing units in their neighborhoods.

“We’re trying to form a ‘YIMBY’ (Yes In My Backyard) group so we can see broader community support,” he said. “It’s not a neighborhood issue, it’s a community issue.”

That could involve innovative new financing strategies for workforce housing.

“We’re working with Boise-area folks to create an impact investing platform in the region around housing,” Mentzer said. While it would still offer a standard rate of return of 4 to 7 percent, investments would be used for housing, he said.

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Vanessa Crossgrove Fry. Photo by Pete Grady.

For workforce, the group is working with Boise State University’s Idaho Policy Institute to attract talent as well as train and retain existing talent.

“Businesses are seeing both high rates of turnover and large gaps in the labor pool, particularly when it comes to entry-level positions and positions requiring skilled labor and technical expertise and experience,” noted the institute’s report. “The housing market and overall cost of living may be contributing to these challenges.”

The institute is planning to survey high school students in the region to identify future workforce development partnerships, said Vanessa Fry, research director.

Consequently, Mentzer’s group is considering strategies on recruiting from outside the area, including veterans and cultural and exchange opportunities through the nation’s J-1 visa program, which could create seasonal employment opportunities for students. For training, existing school districts could offer career technical education, or groups such as restaurants might develop industry-specific training facilities, Mentzer said.

At the same time, the region wants to maintain its mountain-town culture while Idaho grows, Mentzer said.

“We want to stay true to our roots but embrace prosperity as it comes to us,” he said.

Issues with housing, broadband and workforce aren’t something the region is going to solve in a year, Mentzer conceded.

“We need to be iterative, thoughtful and tactical,” he said.

Eastern Idaho works to improve broadband internet access

A number of eastern Idaho cities are also working to improve internet access for their citizens.

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Idaho Falls is also looking to expand fiber optic internet service to its citizens. Photo by Teya Vitu.

The Idaho Falls City Council recently authorized Idaho Falls Power to begin a pilot program to examine costs associated with providing high-speed fiber optic access to residents. The city established a 96-strand “dark fiber” network in 2002, 60 strands of which are currently used by about 500 local businesses, but it wants to make the unused fiber available to residential customers as well.

Idaho Falls is partnering with UTOPIA Fiber, Utah’s local open access fiber optic network, to design and manage the network for the residential fiber pilot program. This is the first project UTOPIA Fiber will be working on outside Utah. Idaho Falls Power will be managing its own infrastructure and building the physical connections to residents’ homes, and the system will rely on local Idaho companies to provide services on the network.

The actual boundaries for the pilot program have not yet been finalized, but the general area includes the numbered streets between 17th Street and Tautphaus Park, and it also will extend into a number of residential areas south of Sunnyside, the city said. A meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Oct. 23 at Taylorview Middle School to explain the program in greater detail to residents living in the pilot project boundaries.

Construction is expected to start in early November and continue through the spring. Service to customers will become available as the project progresses, beginning sometime between December and May depending on customer location, the city said.

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Ammon system network administrator Ty Ashcraft inspects the city’s fiber optic system. File photo.

The neighboring city of Ammon has received national renown for its city-owned fiber optic system.

In addition, the Pocatello company Tru Fiber, partnering with Citizens Community Bank, said it is bringing fiber optic internet to the Highland neighborhood of Pocatello, as well as three Chubbuck neighborhoods. Thus far, the company has installed about 1,000 residential customers.

Whitetail Club in McCall adds townhomes to the mix

An artist’s rendering of two townhomes in one building at the new Fairways at Whitetail Club development in McCall. Image courtesy of the Whitetail Club.

The Whitetail Club private community in McCall has been spending the last couple years diversifying beyond the $2-million custom homes that established the 1,300-acre enclave in 2004.

First came cabins, then cottages, and now Whitetail is adding 34 townhomes along the 12th and 13th fairways of its golf course.

“Buyers wanted a turn-key solution,” said Dan Scott, president and general manager at Whitetail Club.

Whitetail has sold 105 of 238 estate lots for custom homes, where 57 custom homes have been built in 14 years.

Unlike custom homes, where each owner starts with an architect from scratch and builds the home, Whitetail Club offers a variety of designs and options with the cabins, cottages and townhomes that it builds.

Those three products emerged from Whitetail’s residential real estate master plan three years ago, Scott said.

Buyers quickly warmed up to the cabins and cottages with the 15 cabins all selling out, and 16 of 23 cottages sold or under contract since going on the market in November 2017. The cottages feature one, two or three bedrooms and 1,400 to 2,500 square feet, costing $689,000 to $889,000. Cabins with four bedrooms and 3,200 square feet cost $995,000 to $1.159 million.

The new phase of Fairways at Whitetail Club townhomes are not the urban shoebox townhomes lined up side by side. The three-bedroom, 3½-bath townhomes, for which construction is expected to start in April, will come two to a building, creating a look like one big house.

“It’s a really cool design concept,” Scott said. “Most are not a mirror image of each other. (Each townhome) has a different pitch, different gable, and the garage doors are rotated. You end up with a product that looks very different from your neighbor. We call them semi-customized.”

The Fairways at Whitetail Club will range from $1.235 million to about $1.8 million.

The 34 townhomes in 17 buildings come in two models, with buyer options for the roof and finishes. One model has the option of a basement with two additional bedrooms, bathroom, family lounge, wet bar and bunkroom.

“We’re going to spec build one building,” Scott said. “We’re building (the others) once we have a buyer.”

The architect and general contractor is Resort Concepts of Edwards, Colorado, which also designed and built the Whitetail cottages.

Whitetail Club invested about $2 million to build roads and bring utilities to the Fairways at Whitetail Club project. These are the first homes Whitetail is building along the golf course, though some custom homes line other fairways.

St. Luke’s McCall gets a Level IV trauma center

St. Luke’s McCall Medical Center recently performed a trauma center simulation drill. Photo courtesy of St. Luke’s McCall Medical Center.

St. Luke’s McCall Medical Center has been designated as a Level IV trauma center, the only state-designated trauma center between Grangeville and Boise.

McCall is the first St. Luke’s Health System facility to achieve trauma center designation, though St. Luke’s is working toward creating a trauma network to include St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital in Boise, Magic Valley Medical Center in Twin Falls, Meridian Medical Center in Meridian and St. Luke’s Wood River in Ketchum.

St. Luke’s Magic Valley submitted its application to become a Level III trauma center in August, St. Luke’s spokeswoman Anita Kissée said.

“St. Luke’s is looking into the opportunity to set up additional trauma programs based on the needs of our community,” said Sharon Chow, St. Luke’s health system director of trauma. “St. Luke’s believes it’s important that each of our facilities examine what the needs are in their communities.”

St. Luke’s McCall was already providing trauma-level care and had the equipment in place for Level IV before the Aug. 15 designation by the Idaho Time Sensitive Emergency Council, which governs the statewide system of trauma, stroke and heart attack facilities, said Laura Crawford, public relations manager at St. Luke’s McCall.

The Level IV designation focuses on pre-hospital care, creating a trauma-specific hospital staff, and boosting coordination among the hospital, paramedics and personnel who transfer patients to higher-level trauma centers.

“This is only possible because of the collaboration of every department in the hospital, which allowed us to come together as an effective trauma team,” said Jill Morris-Chapman, St. Luke’s McCall trauma program coordinator.

Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota have no Level I trauma centers, which are trauma centers in teaching and research hospitals. Level II trauma centers provide the same level of care as Level I, with Idaho’s Level II centers located at Saint Alphonsus Regional Health Center in Boise, Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene and Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls.

Idaho has one Level III trauma center in Lewiston and 11 Level IV centers in Sandpoint, Bonners Ferry, Orofino, Cottonwood, Grangeville, McCall, Malad City, Arco, Rexburg, Salmon and Driggs, according to the Idaho Time Sensitive Emergency System.

Idaho had no statewide trauma center system until the Legislature created the Idaho Time Sensitive Emergency System in 2014. Previously, Saint Alphonsus (Boise), Kootenai Health, Eastern Idaho Regional and Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello had trauma centers verified by the American College of Surgeons and St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston had a trauma center designated by the state of Washington, according to Niki Forbing-Orr, spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

McCall puts out the call to tech workers in Seattle and San Francisco

McCall’s Payette Lake waterfront draws thousands of visitors to the small Valley County city every summer. Area officials are trying to attract new residents who would work remotely from McCall and the surrounding area. Photo by Fiona Montagne.

McCall wants to inspire high-salary San Francisco and Seattle residents to do their remote jobs from the West Central Mountains.

A Facebook advertising campaign starting in the first week or two of August will encourage people who work at certain large tech companies, such as Amazon or Oracle, to consider moving to McCall, said Andrew Mentzer, executive director of the West Central Mountains Economic Development Council.

“We want to attract people with equity in homes and good paying jobs,” he said.

The Idaho Travel Council is paying $3,000 toward the campaign.

“We want to get people to stay here three or four days from those markets,” Mentzer said. “We want to attract heads in beds. We’d like to see several hundred bed nights with the caveat to have them move here. Maybe we can attract 10 to 15 to 20 people to take a solid look at moving here.”

McCall is a rural resort town about 100 miles north of Boise that draws thousands of visitors each year with a ski resort, lake, and mountains. Its permanent population is 3,200, and officials in the city and surrounding areas have been trying to attract more jobs and economic development to the region.

The McCall plan sprouted from a program in Vermont that is aimed at attracting visitors who might stay to work. The program, called Stay to Stay program, includes designated weekends with networking receptions, employer visits, and assistance to move to Vermont.

“The Vermont thing created an environment for our discussion to move forward,” Mentzer said.

Starting Jan. 1, a separate Vermont program is offering $10,000 to people who move to Vermont and work remotely for companies elsewhere. The money will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis until the budgeted $125,000 is exhausted.

McCall similarly wants to attract people in the culinary arts and construction trades to move to McCall, Mentzer said.

If the Facebook campaign proves successful, the economic development council might expand its advertising to Instagram and LinkedIn, he said.

The West Central Mountain Economic Development Council drafted the Facebook advertising proposal and the McCall Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau will execute it, Mentzer said.



New McCall subdivision will have homes on a pond

Half the homes at the new Eagle Lake subdivision in McCall will sit along a pond. Photo courtesy of Pat Hill.

The first set of five home lots is ready for developers at the Eagle Lake subdivision a couple blocks south of Shore Lodge in McCall.

By fall, Eagle Lake will have eight lots, four with waterfronts on a small pond, developer Pat Hill said.

Hill, also broker at Premier Realty in McCall, said most lots are one-third to one-half acre with a few 1.7-acre estate lots. Lot prices range from $199,000 to $285,000.

Hill acquired the 7.9 acres three years ago when it was still the never-developed Rio Vista Subdivision 6. The first five subdivisions were built in the 1980.

“I model my subdivision on the single-family home with condo convenience concept,” Hill said.

Hill built a private load to Eagle Lake with an annual fee of $200 for homeowners.



Affordable apartment projects are few and far between

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Construction is underway on a single affordable multifamily housing project in Kuna. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

With Idaho simultaneously the nation’s fastest-growing state, but stuck at No. 36 for housing affordability, there is an increasing need for affordable multifamily housing, particularly in the fast-growing Treasure Valley and resort communities such as McCall.

“Affordable multifamily housing” means something different in each city. (See box.) Boise, though Treasure Valley’s largest and arguably most expensive city, has one advantage. It owns and operates its own rental housing portfolio of more than 300 units in 48 locations, said AnaMarie Guiles, housing & community development manager. It tends to serve households earning 50 percent or less of the median income, currently $64,300, she said.

Owning land or bringing money to the table also gives Boise more leverage with developers, Guiles said. “Boise was a partner, so we were able to say to the developer, ‘We will be a partner, but some of it has to be subsidized,’” she said. Funding for affordable housing is always an issue. (See box.)

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Jenah Thornborrow

With improvements in the economy, Garden City  – home to several trailer parks, some of which have been displaced by new construction  – hasn’t had an affordable multifamily project since Trailwinds in 2015, said Jenah Thornborrow, director of development services. “Garden City has traditionally had a larger share, proportionally, of affordable housing stock within the Treasure Valley,” she said. “I would suspect that that is still fairly constant, but it’s not meeting everyone’s needs.”

Similarly, while Nampa has eight multifamily housing projects underway, only two – intended for senior citizens – are technically “affordable,” said Karla Nelson, community planner.

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Michelle Groenevelt

Housing projects in McCall tend to be created for workforce. Eighty-two percent of McCall employees live outside the city and commute, because only 27 percent of housing units in McCall are owner-occupied, with 73 percent vacant due to second homes and vacation rentals, said Michelle Groenevelt, community and economic development director.

“The city lacks at least 700 units for the local workforce based on current household incomes,” she said. “There are even more units needed when commuters are considered.” The last housing development with an income qualification, the 72-unit The Springs, was built in 2016, she said.

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Andrew Mentzer

“A never-ending question in mountain communities is how you provide affordable workforce housing,” said Andrew Mentzer, executive director of the West Central Mountains Economic Development Council.

Mentzer is collaborating with partners to pull together resources in this area – starting with landowners who might have a tract of land they’d be willing to develop but don’t know how, he said. This would be for deed-restricted housing – in other words, some legal instrument requiring occupants who live and work in the area. The type of help available could include aid to someone needing help finishing a studio above the garage for an accessory dwelling unit, all the way to multiple-acre, multiple-unit developments, he said.

“The challenge is a lot of the silos that exist in the development space scare people off,” Mentzer said. “Whether you’re a seasoned or a ‘shade tree’ developer, there are places in the process where you get dissuaded from doing a project.”

Idaho’s more expensive areas include the city of Boise, Blaine, Teton, and Gem counties and Coeur d’Alene. The largest gaps between the housing wage and average renter wage exist in smaller communities such as Bear Lake, Boise, Fremont, Latah, Lemhi, Valley, and Washington counties, according to a report from the Idaho Asset Building Network. The school district in Blaine County is now considering a proposal to build housing geared to teachers.

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The Vineyard at Sycamore Place, a Caldwell affordable housing project scheduled to open in July. Photo courtesy of New Beginnings Housing.

Several cities are changing zoning codes to encourage multifamily affordable housing. Caldwell amended its codes in 2005 to allow for mixed-use development with commercial on the ground floor and residential above, particularly downtown, said Brian Billingsley, planning & zoning director for Caldwell. His challenge at this point is setting up a quiet zone to keep the hourly trains from blowing their horns. “It’s taking forever to get that accomplished,” he said. “Developers are hesitant to build a project downtown until that’s a reality.”

In Melba, where the Canyon County city changed its zoning in 2016 to allow for housing in its commercial area, developers have been looking downtown for possible multifamily projects, said Noni Stapleton, city clerk/treasurer. She doesn’t know if any are considering affordable housing.

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Adare Manor, an affordable multifamily housing project planned for Boise. Rendering courtesy of city of Boise.

Other cities are looking at incentives to encourage developers to construct affordable multifamily housing.

“We don’t have a lot of tools to deal specifically with affordability, but we have tools to build higher-density housing,” said Hal Simmons, Boise’s planning director. The city is considering adding density bonuses for affordable housing in the future, but density runs into community opposition. “We have some pretty heated public hearings about density,” he said, though he pointed out, “There’s nobody who hasn’t lived in an apartment project sometime and needed housing on the affordable side.”

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Caleb Hood

Meridian is looking at incentives for more dense, infill projects to provide affordable workforce housing, said Caleb Hood, planning division manager. But there are no specific affordable housing projects underway, he said.

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Wendy Howell. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

And some cities, such as Kuna and Caldwell, are just getting off the ground with multifamily housing. “We didn’t issue a single multifamily dwelling unit permit from 2008 until 2016,” said Troy Behunin, senior planner.  While the city now has several multifamily projects underway, only one is affordable, a five-building, 10-unit project. Two existing projects – White Barn, and Leisure Village, intended for senior citizens – are affordable, said Wendy Howell, planning and zoning director.

“Our busiest year for permits was 2006,” when Caldwell had 1,100, Billingsley said. “Every single one was for a single-family dwelling.”

When is “affordable” not “affordable?”

Part of the problem with talking about “affordable housing” is defining “affordable.”

Certainly, due to land prices and demographic factors, an apartment in Kuna or Melba or Middleton might cost less than a similar apartment in downtown Boise. “Even if apartments are the same money per month, they don’t have to worry about maintenance, upkeep, insurance, and, and, and,” said Troy Behunin, senior planner for Kuna.

“Market-rate rents in Nampa have tended to be more affordable than in many of our neighboring communities,” said Karla Nelson, community planner.

But that doesn’t technically make it “affordable housing.”

Affordable housing is defined by the federal government as housing geared toward people earning 80 percent of less of median income, as defined each year by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said AnaMarie Guiles, housing & community development manager for Boise. “For us, a median income is $64,300 for a four-person household,” meaning $51,440 as the threshold for subsidies by the federal government or a municipality.

But due to stigma around the term “affordable housing,” over the past couple of years cities have started using the term “housing affordability” for all demographics, Guiles said. And that can cause confusion.

“We don’t have anything actually called ‘affordable housing,’” said Noni Stapleton, city clerk/treasurer for Melba, in Canyon County. “We’re really small, with only a population of 500. The city limits are very small – 6 blocks wide and 12 blocks long.” The city has two triplexes downtown, built in the late 1990s, that aren’t deemed affordable housing, most rented by dairy farmers for their workers.  There are also eight Section 8 units run by Southwestern Idaho Cooperative Housing Authority that date from 1995.

Similarly, Middleton has five apartment complexes “that are always full,” said Mayor Darin Taylor. The city has approved 12 fourplexes, six of which are under construction to open in 2018, but none built with government subsidies,

“We need to break down what we mean by ‘affordable housing,’” said Wyatt Schroeder, executive director of Catch Inc., with offices in Boise and Nampa. “Workforce housing for our firefighters and teachers? Senior developments so people can age in place where it’s safe?” Disabled people who need services also deserve housing, he said. “Too often, we talk very broadly, without defining what those mean and what they look like.”

Alejandra Cerna Rios, policy analyst at the Idaho Asset Building Network, said that in seven of eight metropolitan areas in Idaho and in 36 of its 44 counties, the ‘housing wage’ – or the hourly wage needed to spend no more than 30 percent of household income on rent and utilities on a two-bedroom unit at fair market rent- exceeds typical renter earnings.

In Idaho, the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $803 per month, Cerna Rios said. To cover rent and utilities for a two-bedroom rental without spending more than 30 percent of income on housing costs, an Idaho household must earn $32,122 annually, or $15.44 per hour, she said.  On average, Idaho renters earn $12.19 per hour, she said. Occupations that earn less than the wage needed to pay for housing include ambulance drivers, bank tellers, child care workers, servers, home health aides, preschool teachers, nursing assistants, customer service representatives, and bus drivers.


No local funding tools for affordable multifamily housing

Compared with other states, Idaho lacks tools to develop affordable multifamily housing, said AnaMarie Guiles, housing and community development manager for Boise.

For example, the Federal Housing Trust Fund was created by Congress in 2008 to support the development and operations of housing for households earning up to 30 percent of the Area Median Income. However, those trust funds are funded by the individual states. Idaho is one of three states, along with Alabama and Rhode Island, that has not yet appropriated any money for the fund, let alone identified a continuing revenue source, according to the Center for Community Change’s Housing Trust Fund project.

Similarly, while some cities had enacted affordable housing ordinances that charged developers fees to help fund affordable housing, lawsuits in McCall and Sun Valley in 2008 ruled them an illegal tax. A similar ordinance in Ketchum is in litigation.

As one of Idaho’s resort cities with a population under 10,000, McCall has the advantage of local option taxing authority. Voters recently passed a local option tax that includes local housing as an eligible option for funding, said Michelle Groenevelt, community and economic development director.

Affordable projects in the Treasure Valley

New Path Community Housing
Address: 2200 W. Fairview Avenue
41 Units (including one manager unit)
Developer: Thomas Development Co., The Pacific Companies, and Northwest Integrity Housing Co. (NIHC)
Architect: Erstad Architects
Cost: $7.5 million

Adare Manor
Address: 2403-2419 W. Fairview Avenue
134 Units (including one manager unit)
Mix of incomes and bedroom-types (121 affordable units)
Developer: Thomas Development Co. and Northwest Integrity Housing (NIHC)
Architect: Erstad Architects
Cost: $28.5 million

Vineyard at Eagle Promenade
Address: 10482 W. Utahna Road
30 Units (including one manager unit)
Affordable Senior (55+)
Developer: New Beginnings Housing, LLC
Architect: The Architects Office
Cost: $5.9 million

Vineyard at Sycamore Place
Address: 817 Fillmore Street
Senior community of 35,000 square feet, including community areas, with one-bedroom and two-bedroom units from $340-$775 monthly, to be available July 1
Developer: New Beginnings Housing
Architect: Mark Sanders, The Architects Office
Builder: Wright Brothers The Building Co., Eagle
Cost: $6.5 million

rendering of linder duplexes
Linder Duplexes. Rendering courtesy of Idaho Housing and Finance Association.

Linder Duplexes
Address: 20-35 W. Flyline Lane
10 units
Developer: The Housing Company
Architect: The Architects Office
Cost: Unavailable.

rendering of mercy creek
Mercy Creek. Rendering courtesy of Chance Hobbs.

Vineyard Suites on the Boulevard
Address: 888 W. Corporate
50 units restricted to senior households. Available by summer 2019.
Developer: Wright Brothers The Building Company
Architect: Mark Sanders with The Architects Office
Cost: $10 million

Mercy Creek
Address: 1615 8th
All rents at or below 55 percent of area median income. Start construction early July 2018, first units coming online July of 2019.
Builder: CSDI Construction, Inc
Architect: Hutchinson Smith Architects
Cost: Declined to state

Vacasa acquires Accommodation Services in McCall

The Lake Fork Lodge is one of 130 short-term rental homes in McCall that Vacasa manages. Image courtesy of Vacasa.
The Lake Fork Lodge is one of 130 short-term rental homes in McCall that Vacasa manages. Image courtesy of Vacasa.

Vacasa, the Portland-based vacation property management firm, on Feb. 6 acquired Accommodation Services in McCall and its 75 short-term rental home accounts.

The acquisition more than doubles Vacasa’s presence in McCall to 130 privately owned vacation homes that it manages and provides housekeeping for. Vacasa, established in 2009, has managed vacation homes in McCall since 2013.

Vacasa also acquired Accommodation Services’ downtown McCall storefront front office. The McCall storefront is only the 30th storefront office Vacasa maintains in 11 states, even though it manages more than 7,000 homes in 20 U.S. states, Europe; Central and South America; and South Africa, said Zac Monahan, Vacasa’s senior director of integrations.

Vacasa has other Idaho storefront offices in Boise and Sun Valley, and it has its second central office in downtown Boise, where the Vacasa’s finance office, human resources, corporate development and telephone guest services reservation center are located.

Vacasa manages 378 homes in 18 Idaho communities, including the Pioneer Condominiums at Bogus Basin.

The McCall office will allow Vacasa to centralize its housekeeping functions. Until now, employees have been picking up cleaning supplies at a storage facility, the only Vacasa facility in McCall.

“It allows us to have operations efficiency,” Monahan said. “It really allows us to have a higher level of interaction with homeowners and guests.”

Vacasa’s 30 storefront offices

Portland, Oregon

Seaside, Oregon

Mt. Hood, Oregon

Sunriver, Oregon

Chelan, Washington

Sun Valley, Idaho

Boise, Idaho

McCall, Idaho

Big Sky, Montana

Whitefish, Montana

Big Bear, California

Cayucos, California

Groveland, California

Gualala, California

Mammoth Lakes, California

Mendocino, California

North Lake Tahoe, California

Moab, Utah

Park City, Utah

Solitude, Utah

Silverthorne, Colorado

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Davenport, Florida

Whitehead, Florida

Key West, Florida

Naples, Florida

Miami Beach, Florida

Elijay, Georgia

Fredericksburg, Texas

Lahaina, Hawaii

Vacasa manages 378 short-term rental homes in 18 Idaho communities





Sun Valley

Coeur d’Alene







New Meadows



Garden Valley

Post Falls

Spirit Lake

Editor’s note: A spelling correction for Mendocino was made at 12:33 p.m.

Ridley’s expands McCall supermarket, adds sushi bar

The early stages of expansion work at the Ridley's Family Market in McCall as seen in September. Photo by Teya Vitu.
The early stages of expansion work at the Ridley’s Family Market in McCall as seen in September. Photo by Teya Vitu.

Ridley’s Family Markets will wrap up its expansion of its McCall supermarket by 15,000 square feet in January, a company official said.

The larger 50,000-square-foot store featured a newfull-service sushi bar and coffee shop, and a produce section that is double the size of the previous one, with a fresh-cut fruit and vegetable area, said Mark Ridley, Ridley’s operations director.

The McCall store will have the sixth sushi bar among Ridley’s 31 stores, he said.

TAIT & Associates of Boise is the architect and Wadman Corp. of Ogden, Utah, is the general contractor. Construction started in August.

Ridley did not disclose the cost of the expansion.

The Ridley’s expansion follows the August completion of the Albertsons remodel and expansion of the former Paul’s Market in McCall.

Resort workers have to live somewhere, but where?

Condos across from Shore Lodge is one form of employee housing offered by Shore Lodge Whitetail LLC. Photo by Teya Vitu.
Condos across from Shore Lodge is one form of employee housing offered by Shore Lodge Whitetail LLC. Photo by Teya Vitu.

Back in the day, resort workers lived in town, maybe four to an apartment or in an odd room here or there.

These days, many people who serve tables and wax skis end up living two or three towns down the mountain, and even then have trouble finding housing.

Brundage Mountain Resort even pre-leased apartments for 20 seasonal employees in New Meadows in the fall to have some housing available for workers in the ski season. The resort made this move after leaders realized it was hard for workers to find housing even in the summer,  said April Whitney, communication director at Brundage.

Aspen Ski Co. in Colorado has 600 beds for employees but wants to add 600 more in the next five years. Aspen Ski is taking a novel approach in this first phase by installing 40 tiny houses for 120 employees on a campground the resort bought in Basalt, about 17 miles from Aspen, said Jeff Hanle, director of public relations.

Similarly, Brundage this year bought an RV Park in New Meadows to build workforce housing on 40 acres.

Shore Lodge Whitetail LLC in McCall has found a way to house 112 employees on its McCall property, much of it within sight of the Shore Lodge hotel and restaurant.

Dan Scott
Dan Scott

“Not having (workforce housing) is not an option,” said Dan Scott, president and general manager at Shore Lodge Whitetail. “We have to have it. You have to figure it into your business model.”

Shore Lodge Whitetail has 44 beds in 24 condo units, 36 beds in a 17-room bunkhouse and 28 beds in a 13-unit dormitory in the former U.S. Forest Service office in McCall, adjacent to the Whitetail property and now owned by Shore Lodge Whitetail.

“I’d like to have more housing by next summer,” Scott said.

Northwest Real Estate Capital Corp., a Boise nonprofit developer and property manager of affordable housing, started moving tenants into the new, 36-unit Northwest Passage affordable apartments in Donnelly in late October. The apartments are designed for people with incomes between 40 and 55 percent of the area median wage, Jess Giuffré, senior property developer at Northwest Real Estate.

Northwest Passage technically is not workforce housing, which Giuffré and others define as 60 to 120 percent of area median income. But it essentially serves as workforce housing.

Technically, workforce housing and affordable housing are two distinct categories, but the lines have blurred.  Building such housing in McCall or Aspen or any number of resort towns is a financial conundrum.

“It’s the price of the ground in McCall,” Giuffré said. ”It’s almost necessary to have private landowners or the city contribute the land or do a 99-year lease and put a deed restriction on it for affordable housing.”

Resorts across the West and the country in recent decades have started bedroom communities and feeder communities away from the resort towns, Hanle said.

Jeff Hanle
Jeff Hanle

“Real estate values went up,” Hanle said. “People took old condos with six ski bums, made some improvements and make more money. All these places that were seasonal housing are now short-term rentals. Real estate went up, second home ownership went up. They can get $600, $800 a night instead of getting $2,000 a month from four ski bums.”

The workforce housing crunch at resorts was already underway when VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) and Airbnb changed the dynamic.

“What’s happened in McCall in the last five or 10 years is lakefront and riverfront property has gotten so expensive,” Scott said. “These are now second homes where locals used to live 10 years ago.”

Workforce housing is a top priority for the West Central Mountains Economic Development Council in McCall, said Andrew Mentzer, the group’s executive director.

Shore Lodge has an elaborate setup for workforce housing

Shore Lodge offers employee dorms in the former U.S. Forest Service headquarters in McCall. Photo by Teya Vitu.
Shore Lodge offers employee dorms in the former U.S. Forest Service headquarters in McCall. Photo by Teya Vitu.

Shore Lodge Whitetail LLC provides 112 beds for 350 employees, all on what is now part of the company’s 1,300 acres at the west end of McCall.

Much of the housing the company provides is required for the J-1 visa workers it employs, about 50 to 60 in summer and 40 in winter, and 10 to 20 H-2B visa workers employed from April to October, said Dan Scott, Shore Lodge president and general manager.

The foreign worker count has doubled from 40 in the past three years, he said.

Others had built 24 condos across the street from Shore Lodge in the 1980s. Since the late 1990s, Shore Lodge has individually bought condos as they became available and Scott bought the 24th condo about five years ago to give Shore Lodge ownership of the whole property.

Shore Lodge and Whitetail employees rent the one-bedroom condos for $575 per person per month and the two- and three-bedroom condos for $375 per person per month.

The 36-bed bunkhouse mostly houses golf course workers at the 18-hole Whitetail Club and was built by Shore Lodge Whitetail in the early 2000s at the same time as the golf course. Bunkhouse rents range from $175 to $275 per person per month.

“There is not a shortage in spring and late fall,” Scott said. “What we’re building for is summer demand. I need 150 beds in summer. I don’t need 150 beds in winter.”

Scott said the company in October closed on the purchase of a seven-unit apartment building directly across the street from the employee entrance to Whitetail Club. Two company employees already live there and, as existing tenant leases expire, all units will be for Shore Lodge Whitetail employees.

In 2015, Shore Lodge bought the former U.S. Forest Service headquarters within a few hundred yards of the restaurant, condos and bunkhouse. Shore Lodge converted part of the building into its corporate headquarters and much of it became a 13-unit dormitory with 28 beds, dining and recreation facilities.

Scott expects to start construction in spring on a 32-unit dorm complex adjacent to the former Forest Service building. The McCall Planning and Zoning Commission approved the plan in early November.

Brundage bought 40 acres for employee housing

Brundage Mountain Resort plans to build employee housing on this former campground it bought in New Meadows. Photo courtesy of Brundage Mountain Resort.
Brundage Mountain Resort plans to build employee housing on this former campground in New Meadows. Photo courtesy of Brundage Mountain Resort.

Unlike Shore Lodge, which is close to shopping and living needs, Brundage Mountain Resort is isolated on the mountain with no grocer nearby.

Brundage has pre-leased apartments for 20 employees in New Meadows, 11 miles from the resort.

“We are looking for some bigger things in the future,” said April Whitney, Brundage’s communications director. The resort bought 40 acres in New Meadows to build employee housing.

April Whitney
April Whitney

Brundage adds 150 to 200 employees for ski season and has a shuttle to get workers from housing to the ski area.

Aspen goes tiny

Aspen Ski Co. has acquired 40 tiny houses to serve as employee housing in Colorado. Photo courtesy of Aspen Ski Co.
Aspen Ski Co. has acquired 40 tiny houses to serve as employee housing in Colorado. Photo courtesy of Aspen Ski Co.

Aspen Ski Co. in 2016 brought on a project manager specifically to deal with doubling the resort’s 600 beds of employee housing to 1,200 beds.

The project manager suggested filling a campground that Aspen Ski owned with tiny houses. Sprout Tiny Homes of Pueblo, Colo., supplied the first four tiny homes a year ago with another 36 being added this fall.

The homes are 40 by 10 feet and designed to house three people each, said Jeff Hanle, director of public relations at Aspen Ski Co., which also developed and owns the year-old Limelight Hotel Ketchum.

“They stay on wheels,” Hanle said. “We didn’t have to change the zoning. The finishes are better than any of our other employee housing.”

The tiny homes are in Basalt, about 17 miles from Aspen. The ski resort has employee housing as far away as Carbondale, 31 miles from the slopes.