Wednesday, July 7, 2010

ACHD Commission Says No to Bird in Hand

About 4-5 years ago, ACHD undertook to widen Ustick Rd from 3 to 5 lanes from Cole Rd to Five Mile Rd. This project cost the taxpayers of Ada County about $20,000,000 when everything from right of way to construction to drainage to soup to nuts was added in. A lot of the right of way costs (about $3 million) were attributed to 3 office buildings at the corner of Ustick and Maple Grove and a house to the east. Dentists occupied 2 buildings, a doctor the third. The doctor's office was torn down to make way for the widened intersection. Both dental offices still stand. One was purchased, I surmise, because the dentist would have ended up very close to the road, but perhaps it was going to be torn down. A house, directly to the east was also purchased perhaps to be torn down to allow for access to the two remaining offices but perhaps not. That house still stands, and today stands empty. The plans obviously changed with the direction of the wind. Fascinating how a project of this magnitude was not better planned. Ah well.

The one dental office, closest to Ustick Rd, has been leased for the past 2-3 years. The other dental office, purchased for a cool $700,000, stands as empty today as it has for the past 3 years. The interesting thing about this building is that it didn't have to be purchased at all. It's not close to the road, it's parking was not affected and it has access to both Ustick and Maple Grove Rds. And yet, it became a windfall to the owner and an empty white elephant to the taxpayer. For three years this building has stood empty, off the tax rolls and becoming obsolete and with need of some maintenance to bring it up to snuff but with the taxpayer footing the continuing bill for utilities and grounds maintenance. What's also curious is about 1/4 mile away to the east on Ustick Rd, a duplex is within 12 feet of Ustick Rd. Only one side of the duplex was purchased, the owner of the other side got zilch. How the owner of the dental office made out so well and the poor owner of the unpurchased half of the duplex made out so poorly would make the subject of an interesting investigation would it not?

So we've had a dentist come to ACHD and ask to rent the currently vacant dental office. After much dickering, ACHD and the potential renter came to terms. The dentist wants a five year lease, a few improvements to get the building up to ADA code and he'll spring for the landscaping and parking lot improvements. All told, over 5 years ACHD (read the taxpayers) should net about $140,000. The dentist will pay property tax, utilities and do the grounds maintenance. The dentist may want to buy the building after that time or who knows, he may want to buy the building before then. Or at the end of the 5 year period, someone else may want to buy the building. The possibilities are practically endless.

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the lease signing. It's hit a wall.

For some reason, ACHD staff has engaged a planner to look at all the possible uses of this property, along with it's neighboring public owned properties, in the context of what is allowed under Boise City's Comp Plan (Blueprint Boise) and how the properties could be reconfigured and if the buildings should remain or razed. And the cost to taxpayers will only be $2800. So the lease and the dentist are on hold.

However, I think it's just plain stupid to engage someone to do what anyone who can read and ask questions could figure out for free.

One - Blueprint Boise shows this corner to be mixed use.
Two - The mixed use category provides the foundation for community and neighborhood activity center development with a variety of uses in relatively small increments. In other words, what's there now is probably a lot like what will be there in the future. There won't be a big box store or a hospital or a car lot or a highrise. This information was available from a Boise City Planner
Three - in speaking with the Assessor's office about the price of the property if it were bare ground, the going rate today is $4/sf IF it's 1/2 acre parcels. Larger parcels are about $3.75/sf. That means the taxpayer's investment of almost $2 million here could be repaid at 10-15 cents on the dollar if sold today.
Four - the Assessor said that to get back to the 2006/07 land value levels will take ten years.
Five - checking with a broker in the private sector about that 10 year timeframe and if it is too pessimistic, the broker said it probably is in the ballpark.
Six - I've got an inquiry out to a local economist as another check on the 10 years.

Time of inquiries elapsed -25 minutes. If I were to print up a fancy report and talk about moving lot lines, I could fill up another hour or two. ACHD staff is not that busy that they couldn't do this analysis on their own for nothing.

Today the staff came to give an update to the Commission. I've known about these negotiations and the dentist has come to me in frustration. We're going to be lucky if he doesn't just throw up his hands and walk away. When I mentioned that that might be a possibility, President Huber said "let him walk". Unbelievable.

The most annoying thing is that with a little thought, staff could have brought forward the lease and done the future of the property analysis at the same time. But that's not what they recommended so the rest of the Commission decided to put the lease on hold. It's doubtful that there are any birds in the bush that we can afford to spit on the bird in the hand.

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