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‘Smart growth’ - or just a growing bill for Idaho taxpayers?

‘Smart growth’ - or just a growing bill for Idaho taxpayers?

April 22, 2010
April 22, 2010

Since 2004, urban renewal agencies (URAs) in two Idaho cities have paid more than $20,000 of taxpayers’ money to the Urban Land Institute (ULI), an international urban planning organization that espouses development of inner cities rather than in suburban or rural areas.

According to public records, in that time period, Coeur d’Alene’s Lake City Development Corporation (LCDC) spent $11,526.74 on ULI-related expenses, while Boise’s Capital City Development Corporation (CCDC) spent $9,227.42. While supporters of the ULI and other planning groups say they're concerned with combatting sprawl, critics say they're less about urban renewal and more about social engineering.

ULI-Idaho District Council Coordinator Diane Kushlan said the ULI has about 38,000 members in 95 countries worldwide. “It was started in the 1930s by a group of developers who found that there was some benefit in sharing best practices in land development among themselves.” Members include realtors, attorneys, bankers, politicians, and other government officials.

What did taxpayers get for their money?

“We’ve been through various training courses they’ve put on. It’s a way to access the latest thinking on urban real estate in the country.” said CCDC Executive Director Phil Kushlan, husband of Diane Kushlan. For example, he said ULI training helped in the development of the BoDo shopping and entertainment area in downtown Boise.

ULI-Idaho has worked with the LCDC as well, giving presentations on emerging real estate trends and affordable housing. “I know that they were involved with the community college (in Coeur d’Alene),” said Diane Kushlan, “trying to figure out how to provide more student housing and expand the student housing base up there.” She pointed out that it wasn’t just the LCDC that benefitted from the training, but surrounding Idaho and Washington communities as well.

Birds of a feather?

According to Randall O’Toole, a land use and public transportation expert with the Cato Institute, the ULI has ties to groups that advocate using public money for urban development and mass transit programs. “It has a strong bias towards smart growth and New Urbanism. It recently published papers by major smart-growth advocates about why compact development is absolutely necessary to meet carbon emission targets.”

In fact, the ULI is listed as a partner of the Smart Growth Network, which is an advocate for creating mixed-use (combination residential and commercial) neighborhoods and “sustainable” growth. Smart growth groups are also advocates of public mass transit systems.

“Compact development” includes high or higher density housing, which, according to Phil Kushlan, could include anything from high-rise buildings, to tightly-developed single-family neighborhoods like Boise’s North End. “Generally, they (the ULI) focus on compact urban form; that could be high-rise, townhouse development or smaller lot single-family.”

While the ULI does not necessarily advocate the use of “urban growth boundaries,” many smart growth proponents do. Many cities and states, including Oregon, Washington, California and Florida, already have them. Even the US Department of Transportation has mandated all urban areas adopt similar growth plans, O’Toole said.

He thinks drawing a line beyond which land can’t be developed is a form of coercion, because it forces people who want to live in single-family suburban developments to move back into the cities. “If you won’t let them build, because there’s no available land, and if you subsidize the building of high density housing, people are going to move there because they can’t afford the single family homes they want to live in.”

Who runs the URAs?

In Idaho, URA members are appointed by city mayors and confirmed by city councils. By law, they may have from three to nine members. Often, members include representatives of the business community, real estate, finance, and the government. The CCDC consists of Phil Kushlan, and a nine-member Board of Commissioners.

They are John S. May, Board Chairman and General Manager of the Owyhee Plaza Hotel; Phil Reberger, Board Vice Chairman and Principal at Sullivan and Reberger; Cheryl Larabee, Board Secretary-Treasurer and Director of External Relations, BSU School of Business; David Eberlee, Boise City Council; John Hale, Managing Partner at KPMG LLP; Chuck Hedemark, retired EVP and COO at Intermountain Gas; Patrick Shalz, Broker with Thornton Oliver Keller; Alan Shealy, Boise City Council; and Andy Simmons, VP of Rocky Mountain Management and Development.

Coeur d'Alene's LCDC consists of Executive Director Tony Berns and a nine member board. Those members are: Denny Davis, Chairman and Coeur d'Alene managing attorney with Witherspoon, Kelley, Davenport and Toole; Jim Elder, Vice Chairman, Mayor of Fernan and owner of Cricket's Bar and Grill; Rod Colwell, VP of First National Bank of North Idaho; Charlie Nipp, Chairman of the Board at Mountain West Bank; Deanna Goodlander, Coeur d'Alene City Council; Al Hassell, Coeur d'Alene City Council; Dave Patzer, VP and General Manager of Kerr Oil; Scott Hoskins, Verizon Network Operations manager for North Idaho and Eastern Washington; and Brad Jordan, Chairman of the Coeur d'Alene Planning and Zoning Commission.

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