Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Planned Communities

One of the issues I've been curious about since I came on the commission is the status of all the planned communities we've been hearing about for years. It turns out that some have been approved and are sort of building houses, some have gone nowhere and some are in what appears to be limbo.

What I find strange is that ACHD seems to just go along with what the land use agency (Ada County) approves, when in fact, I think ACHD holds the whip hand. Up until now ACHD has only recommended the proposed roadway improvements based on the planned community application and the traffic study submitted by the applicant. When the preliminary plat comes before ACHD, it seems like there is no saying no to the project even though the roads may be totally inadequate to accomodate traffic from the planned community. Remember however, that once a preliminary plat is approved, the development then has vested rights and the agency may not deny a final plat.

Further, if no work is performed on a preliminary plat, ACHD gives an extension automatically if Ada County says yes to the extension.

Apparently, ACHD has never said no to a planned community no matter how ill advised it is. The question is why? ACHD is the sole agency in Ada County responsible for the roads and I think it therefore has the right and the responsibility to ensure to the taxpayers of Ada County that these projects are not going to overburden the roads without providing immediate capacity. The capacity provided sometime in the future by impact fees or extraordinary impact fees is cold comfort to users of the crowded roads in the interim.

The most egregious example of an ill advised approval for a planned community is the Cliffs along Hwy 21. ACHD approved the first preliminary plat for 359 units in July 2006 and it has another 4 1/2 months before the extension expires. The dirty little secret about the Cliffs is that it has no access point to Warm Springs Ave so the potential owners of 359 units, if built, can never leave the property. Why was this ever approved? And since it's doubtful that the developers will receive access from ITD to Hwy 21 in 4 1/2 months, will ACHD be approving another extension? I certainly won't vote to do that. Even if Ada County grants another extension, ACHD should just say no.

The planned communities that have gone nowhere are Bryan's Run, Kuna-Mora, Mayfield Springs, Orchard Ranch, Pac West, Shadow Valley and Southern Cross-Roads. (We'll be having a contest soon to give a prize to whomever can say where in the world these projects are.)

The planned communities that are sort of building houses are Avimor (6 houses our of 229) and ...

The planned communities that are in limbo are Arbor Hills, Cartwright Ranch (620 lots), Cliffs (359 lots), Dry Creek Ranch (455 lots), and Vista (3,113 lots).

While it may seem clear from the above that planned communities' time has either come and gone or perhaps has yet to come (cause it's nowhere now), ACHD really needs to learn how to assess these projects and say no where appropriate.


At August 13, 2009 at 8:47 PM , Anonymous Speckled Hen said...

This is a great concept and I wish the region had the guts to require something, anything, from developers. ACHD should even intervene when cities have professed a desire for transit but approve neither the density nor design to support it, thus leading to even greater traffic demand.

Unfortunately, every time ACHD has tried to advise a city or the county on the potential negative effects of a subdivision or planned community on increased traffic or no realistic prospects for transit patronage, they are slapped around for daring to have an opinion on land use plans and decisions. Heck, cities have spanked ACHD for trying to dictate something as minor as a commercial driveway location by calling the action a "land use decision", thus out of ACHD's purview. COMPASS cannot even faithfully track how the cities are not follwing the land use recommendations of Communities in Motion because of political pressure from the cities.

Do you remember the Boise City Council's reaction in the late 1990s when ACHD tried to discuss the prospects of denying subdivisions that tripped certain traffic thresholds. This was met with a resounding "No!" The idea also gained zero momentum with the failed Blueprint for Good Growth.

At August 14, 2009 at 6:11 PM , Blogger Sara said...

ACHD gets slapped around because they allow themselves to be slapped around. I've even done it when I was on the Boise City Council in the late 90's that you reference. Obviously a city has a different mission than ACHD does obviouslym and each should protect their respective turfs.

There are some at ACHD who are more concerned with the PR aspects of things than in the principles. I believe if you make a decision and think it's right, you can certainly defend it even if it's unpopular or someone, like a city, is "yelling" at you.

As I said in my posting, ACHD has the whip hand. The Commission can say no to a project and in many of these planned communities they should say no. Obviously defensible reasons must be cited but honestly, how hard could it be to come up with those.

It's a question of will. I'll be interested to see what happens with the Cliffs in January.


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