Grow Smart Awards 2019

Congratulations 2019 Grow Smart Award Recipients twitter

Boise River Greenbelt

Planning and Perseverance

The Boise River Greenbelt is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but the idea was first spelled out in 1961 in Boise’s first comprehensive planning effort. The planning consultant proposed that the city “acquire land along the Boise River so as to create a continuous green belt of public lands stretching along the river throughout the entire length of the community.”

In the past two years the final segment of that path was completed; today the greenbelt extends more than 25 miles, on both sides of the river within the city limits, and continues downstream to Garden City and Eagle, for a total of nearly 50 miles. It is widely regarded as one of the signature natural assets in Boise, the “crown jewel” in the city’s “Ribbon of Jewels” of parks and public spaces along the river.

Challenges to creating a greenbelt pathway included a lack of dedicated city funding and the unwillingness of some landowners to selling any of their land for pathway development. Years of river contamination and debris dumped along the banks also needed remediation. Yet the momentum was underway; people were floating parts of the river in the late ‘50s, and the desire for urban outdoor recreation was growing. The city adopted the “Boise River Greenbelt Comprehensive Plan and Design” in 1969 and city leaders and community volunteers began the long task of assembling property and developing the pathway.

Today the Greenbelt serves a wide range of community benefits. It provides a mixed nonmotorized paved pathway for both recreation and transportation users, and connectivity among neighborhoods and communities. It preserves open space and natural beauty within the riparian corridor and provides ecological benefits like wildlife habitat, shade, water and air pollution control, erosion protection and floodwater collection. Most importantly, it is a great example of community collaboration to create a shared vision—and then to hold on to it.

McCall in Motion

Making outreach fun

Perhaps the most important aspect of a community plan—apart from implementation—is how much the public is involved in its development. Outreach is crucial to getting widespread participation in the planning process and whether people care about the result. Yet public involvement is fragile—too much of it can lead to “planning fatigue,” and people will disengage.

In 2017 the city of McCall was ready to begin the public outreach for three separate plans: a comprehensive plan update, a transportation plan and a local housing strategy. A small resort town with stellar natural assets and a strong sense of community, McCall is especially vulnerable to the growth pressures facing Idaho in general. Knowing that three separate public outreach efforts would cause fatigue, and since land use, housing and transportation are so interrelated, McCall chose to integrate the outreach. They called the process “McCall in Motion.”

McCall in Motion reached out to the widest variety of stakeholders with the goal of making participation easy and fun. The team went to where people gather, at public events, listening sessions, booths, workshops and bistros, as well as online surveys and interactive maps. In all, over 3,000 participants responded to the McCall in Motion outreach, more than the city’s population.

The approach is already producing results and since the plans’ adoption, McCall has updated its development codes; focused attention on the Central Business District, including forming a new urban renewal district; developed the McCall Housing Program and the Local Housing Initiative; and improved sidewalks and completed the Wooley Pathway.

Kootenai St Traffic Calming Plan

Listening to people

In today’s public discourse a frequent complaint is that government is not listening to the people. The charge may be debatable, but not in the case of this award. Ada County Highway District, the lead government agency behind the Kootenai Street Traffic Calming Plan, not only listened to people the first time, it returned to listen again and ultimately produced a plan that received overwhelming approval from the neighborhood as well as other nearby entities. The plan is the result of a citizen-led initiative to address traffic concerns on Kootenai Street on Boise’s Bench. This historic street is characterized by charming homes and landscaping, mature street trees, two local schools and a strong neighborhood spirit. Neighbors were concerned about traffic safety and the sense that their peaceful street was becoming a rogue cut-through arterial.

ACHD and its consultant HDR went into the project with the idea that robust public outreach was crucial and along the way expanded the opportunities for outreach and comment. Three public open houses and two property-owner meetings were held, along with meetings with two neighborhood associations, the city and the school district. Comments were taken at meetings, the website and e-mail and regular mail.

The outreach brought strong engagement, and ACHD’s design team returned to the drawing board three times. The resulting study offers an array of traffic safety solutions in this 1.5-mile stretch of Kootenai Street, including narrowed traffic lanes, marked bike lanes, chicanes, curb bulb-outs and a flashing beacon intersection. It preserves on-street parking and completes the sidewalk on one side. When implemented it will be a good example of how a street can serve a variety of interests—residents, drivers, walkers and bikers—that are often at odds.

Lewiston City Library & 5th St Reconstruction

Public-private partnership

The Lewiston City Library began in 1903 in an Andrew Carnegie-funded building near the downtown but in the 1980s it moved up the hill to a commercial storefront in the Orchards. When that space became inadequate an effort started in the 2000s to bring the library back downtown. The recession created a challenge, and voters declined a series of bond elections for a new library. A number of interests persevered—including the library board, the downtown business association, the city and its urban renewal agency—recognizing the potential of a new library to be a catalyst in the redevelopment of 5th Street in the historic downtown. One deciding factor was a study showing the majority of library users lived within a 10-15 minute walk of the proposed location.

In 2011 the library board and city purchased the historic 1901 Erb Hardware store at 5th and D streets. A library foundation was created to raise private capital and in 2012 the 20,000-square-foot ground floor was completed at a cost of $4.7 million—40% city funds and 60% private. The new library was an immediate success, with visits skyrocketing from 53,000 in 2012 in the old location to 160,000 in 2013 in the new one.

Meanwhile the city and urban renewal agency completed the redevelopment of 5th Street, burying overhead powerlines, installing new street lights, trees and streetscape amenities, as well as new water, stormwater, sewer and high-speed internet infrastructure. In 2017, the library partners completed another 15,000 square feet on the library’s second floor, adding dedicated spaces and meeting rooms. The public meeting room now houses the Lewiston City Council meetings as well as community events. Public art has been placed throughout the downtown. The library has succeeded as a downtown catalyst and remains a favorite destination. One community member noted, “Until the Library opened, I never used to see kids downtown.”

ElJay Waite

Charles Hummel Award

The Charles Hummel Award is given by the Idaho Smart Growth Board of Directors in honor of the renowned Idaho architect and ISG co-founder. Since 2010, the board selects an individual who exemplifies Charles’ personal integrity, dedication to smart growth principles and commitment to the built and natural environments.

ElJay Waite quotes his former boss and fishing buddy Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas, “A vision without a funding source is nothing more than a hallucination.” The story of ElJay’s long career as Caldwell’s finance director is that of providing a funding stream to make Caldwell’s vision a reality.

ElJay was born and raised in Nampa and graduated from Boise State University with a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1985. He worked for many years in finance at the DeLamar silver mine near Silver City, in Idaho’s Owyhee Mountains. In 1998 he started as finance director at the city of Caldwell, when Garret Nancolas began his first term as mayor, and retired last year. In 1998, he coauthored the Caldwell Urban Renewal Agency Plan with Mayor Nancolas, and served as the URA chairman until 2016. During that time the agency completed the Indian Creek daylighting project (a 2010 Grow Smart Award recipient), the Caldwell Family YMCA, the Caldwell airport terminal project, the Canyon County administrative building, industrial sites in the SkyRanch business park, the Treasure Valley Community College building and many other development partnerships, both public and private.

ElJay is a firm believer that new growth pays for itself, but it needs guidance from the community. The urban renewal plan provided a roadmap for Caldwell’s growth and attracted solid investment. During his tenure the assessed value in the urban renewal district grew tenfold, from $60 million to over $600 million. The rest of the city’s value increased more than four times in the same period, to over $2.4 billion. Urban renewal, coupled with impact fees and other finance packages that ElJay instituted, has allowed Caldwell to pursue a vision of high-paying jobs, clean industry, a higher standard of living and strong community partners. When the downtown district sunsets in 2022 the increased tax base will provide options for the city to offer property tax relief and pursue its vision into the future.

For the inspiration to remain at work in public service ElJay credits Garret Nancolas, whom he has known since 1990, and everyone who has served on the city council. He stays engaged, and recently completed the feasibility study for a second urban renewal district in north Caldwell, which is expected to generate similar results. He plans to help local governments with financial master plans. He has many family and civic connections to stay involved with. And maybe do a little fishing.