When I travel and I see a city where all the houses, stores and shops look exactly alike, with building facades carefully selected, aligned and controlled, I don't marvel at the great achievement in public planning. Rather, I cringe at the thought of government despotism on display -- private property rights that were slaughtered when landowners were told their construction projects would conform or would not happen at all.
Such is the case in Boise, where the Simplot family has a great and magnificent dream, but can't make their dream into reality because members of a government board have decided they don't like the plans for the 7.5 acre Jack's Urban Meeting Place, named for the late great Idaho businessman, J.R. Simplot. Known as JUMP, the project would be a $70 million infusion of creativity and economic growth for downtown Boise. If it ever gets off the ground, it will include an office building, a parking garage, 5.9 acre park and amphitheater.
You'd think the city would do back flips and part the ocean in order to accommodate the Simplot idea of turning vacant land, parking lots and old warehouses into productive and inviting space. But the Boise Design Review Board shot down the project last week, complaining, according to the Idaho Business Review, that the project doesn't accommodate enough pedestrians and doesn't look the way the city wants it to look. The city doesn't like the paint, the plans or the design of the project. The city has also been grousing about JUMP's privately-owned park and that the Simplot family plans to maintain it.
So this project, along with the 700-800 new jobs that it would bring over two years, would be well underway right now if not for the government's persistent interference and capriciousness about it. The project is going nowhere fast at a time when Boise could use the injection of economic vitality this project would bring. The Simplot family can still appeal the Design Review Board's ruling to the Planning and Zoning Commission or rework the project, but it's just another needless delay in a stream of government-manufactured hurdles. Meanwhile, Ada County's unemployment rate is 8.5 percent, yet there's no real urgency on the part of the government, and the Simplot project continues to languish.
The Simplot family owns the ground. It's their private property. It's their right to use it as they see fit, and it happens that they've developed one heck of a plan that enhances and strengthens the community. But even if they hadn't, you and I have no right to tell them how to build their project, to demand the use of certain colors and designs. Since we don't have that right, the city truly doesn't either; government is our agent using the power that we assign to it.
The JUMP project is a testament to American entrepreneurialism and freedom, private sector-driven economic prosperity, creativity and innovation. The city's response to it is a testament to what an overreaching, stifling government bureaucracy looks like and how it can crush meaningful projects by trampling all over private property rights.