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For some reason, local governments in Boise can’t put much value on historic preservation south of the Boise River. In the latest news, the Boise School District has announced it will tear down the Franklin and Cole elementary schools. These schools became obsolete after a 2006 bond election, which built new schools and consolidated the populations of old schools. Cole Elementary, at Cole Road Fairview Ave., was first built in 1888 and is Boise’s oldest-standing school building. Franklin Elementary, at Franklin Road and Orchard Street, was built in 1905.

I’ve lived in Boise since 1990 and over that time, it seems as though neighborhoods south of the Boise river consistently get shortchanged, especially in the areas of historic preservation and urban design. Bench developers are allowed to build new strip malls with little regard to preserving traditional neighborhood values. Zoning rules concern themselves with the caliper diameter of trees, not if the development comes to the street. Meanwhile, decrepit strip malls continue to decay while the city frets over light rail in the largely-completed downtown areas. The remaining Bench historic sites – all the more precious because of their fewness – are cast aside and prepared for the wrecking ball and a new life as a parking lot.

“Cole is the last bastion of early Boise history in a wasteland of nothingness,” Dan Everhardt, president of Preservation Idaho, told The Idaho Statesman. “There is no sense of place to those strip malls.”

To its credit, the city has been getting better about putting public art in Bench neighborhoods and has done well in establishing branch libraries in strip malls. These are the easy targets, however. The Bench really needs reinvestment and urban renewal, similar to what has successfully been undertaken downtown. Failing that, we should at least hold on to the good things we have.

The City of Boise had little interest in preserving the 126-year-old  Trolley, a small neighborhood pub made from a converted trolley car on Morris Hill Street. After a fire destroyed the Trolley,the city sent the owner a letter telling them to move their junk. No, the Historic Preservation Office wasn’t going to help, nor was the city going to use some stimulus money to preserve the Trolley. Just: Move your junk. Now. Likewise, the Boise School District demolished South Junior High School while the city did nothing to preserve it.

I served on a citizens’ committee in 2006 to help the school district pass the bond issue. At the time, school district leaders spoke of the need to improve the “doughnut” of original suburbs around Boise, which were losing middle-class families to the newer suburbs. Dilapidated schools, a lack of sidewalks and few public amenities were making these 1950s-1970s neighborhoods less desirable. The school district’s goal at the time was to not only replace aging schools with new ones, but to improve the neighborhoods and make them more attractive to middle-class families with children.

It was a visionary plan – I plan a suspect no one even remembers anymore. After these historic buildings are demolished, likely parking lots with strip malls will be built in their place; that is hardly the kind of development that endears a neighborhood to people. I hope the city of Boise and the school district can exercise some vision and think of something better.

Here is my suggestion, with a hefty dose of sarcasm: Move the Cole and Franklin schools to some place north of the Boise River. I suspect that suddenly, eyes will light up at City Hall and officials will show the leadership and vision we need now. They will search for federal stimulus money, marshal their historic preservation resources, and pull out all the stops to keep these important parts of our history.

A healthy city is full of places worth caring about.  The city’s and school district’s lack of interest in preserving cultural treasures on the Bench is unfortunate.

(Notes from Boise School District meetings with Borah Neighborhood Association members, May 10, 2006 and  May 17, 2006.)

We own a home on Randolph Drive, on the Boise Bench overlooking Bishop Kelly High School. My family lived in the home from July 2001 until July 2007, when we moved to Hidden Springs. Over the years, we volunteered in various ways in the Borah Neighborhood Association (Barbara is modest but she did start the annual Chili Festival in 2002) and McKinley Elementary.

It’s a large home, 3,300 square feet, and difficult to rent in the current market. At the same time, about a year ago, I started doing public relations work for New Hope Community Health. During that time, I became very familiar with New Hope’s mission and model and came to support them personally. After a while, I came to realize that a house of our size could be put to use helping people. I approached New Hope with the idea of using our home for their transitional housing program and we agreed to a one-year lease.

When we had everything finalized, I sent out this news release announcing our open house; it pretty much sums up everything I have to say at this point. So far, no one has expressed much upset at the development but the day is still young. Needless to say, the Feb. 20 open house will be an interesting meeting for all involved.

New Hope Community Health opens home in Borah Neighborhood
Open house Feb. 20 will allow neighbors to meet new residents of home

For more information
Martin Johncox 658-9100
Dennis Mansfield, 353-3252 & 672-9200

New Hope Community Health, a for-profit business dedicated to providing
housing, treatment and social services to recovering substance abusers, is
opening a staffed recovery home at 6904 Randolph Drive and will hold an open
house there on Friday, Feb. 20, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Martin and Barbara Johncox of Boise own the home and used to live there.
Martin will attend the open house, as well as residents and representatives
from the city of Boise and New Hope .

“We are trusting New Hope with our home and we have faith in their ability
to be a good neighbor,” Johncox said. “I will keep a close watch on the home
and I want neighbors to call me with any thoughts or concerns. We hope they
will attend this open house and get to meet these people.”

New Hope operates 10 homes in the Treasure Valley, assisting over 100 men
and women, and there is a backlog of over 100 potential residents.
Initially, seven men will live at the Randolph home but the number could
rise to the allowable federal limit of 12. Admission to the program is
competitive and ex-addicts can stay in the program for up to a year and a

Most – but not all – of the residents have been released from incarceration.
As a condition of living in the home, residents must attend treatment; work
or be looking for work or be in job training; attend religious instruction;
obey all laws and restrictions; and share in household expenses, chores and

Residents who fail to abide by the rules will be dismissed from the program
and face possible return to prison or they must attempt to make it on their
own. People convicted of violent crimes, sex crimes, arson and similar
crimes are not allowed in the program.

“The people we help are being released into the community one way or the
other – they are your friends, neighbors and family,” said New Hope
Executive Director Dennis Mansfield. “We give them guidance, Bible study,
treatment and employment help. With this kind of supervision, our clients
have a better shot at becoming productive members of society again.”

The Federal Fair Housing Act protects recovering addicts from
housing discrimination
( Among other things, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race,
religion, sex, national origin, familial status or disability.

Elliot Werk, president of the Borah Neighborhood Association, sent this email to some association members. I agree with the sentiments in Elliot’s letter, although I would point out that there’s more than just federal law protecting the housing rights of recovering addicts.  In some neighborhoods, people  have been “unwelcome” for a variety of reasons, including their race, ethnicity, religious beliefs and disabilities. Housing is a human rights issue, because in a free society, free people must have the opportunity live anywhere.

In any case, I look forward to making this home a good neighbor, and its residents contributing members of the neighborhood.

Subject: New Hope Transitional Home at 6904 Randolph Drive
Date: Tue, 10 Feb 2009 17:07:49 -0700


Today in the Idaho Statesman there was an announcement that New Hope Community Health is planning to open a transitional home for former inmates at 6904 Randolph Drive. You can see the announcement at

I know that transitional homes have been a hot topic since Dennis Mansfield and company began business last year. The purpose of this message is to let you know that the Borah Neighborhood Association is engaging with New Hope in an effort to help ensure that this home is run with consideration for the neighborhood and with the necessary oversight to ensure peace and safety.

It is important to know that for over a decade our neighborhood had a transitional home called Hayes House located in the area to the west of Cole Road. This home housed wayward youth and teens. When it first opened there were a great many issues in the neighborhood. As a result the neighbors worked with the Idaho Youth Ranch (the owners) to create a committee that actively worked with Hayes management to ensure proper operation. With the help of this committee the Hayes Home operated virtually trouble-free for over a decade. We also had a transitional home on Holiday drive for about five years. This home also operated without incident.

I am meeting with New Hope in the next few days to discuss their plans for the home and to try and develop a positive relationship with them. I am hopeful that with vigilance and engagement we can help New Hope to operate a model transitional home that will blend in with our neighborhood.

It is important to note that we cannot stop New Hope from opening this home – they are protected by federal law. What we can do is help them to make this home into a model of efficient operation so that our neighborhood is not disrupted or negatively impacted.

If you have any comments, suggestions, or wish to serve on an advisory council for this home please contact me. To take a look at New Hope’s website to gain an understanding of what this home will be please go to

Thank you for remaining calm and for helping your neighborhood association to positively engage with New Hope. Everyone deserves the opportunity to a fresh start and I am hopeful that we can work well with New Hope to provide that opportunity for these men.

Elliot Werk, President
Borah Neighborhood Association.
PS. Just so you know, I live three houses east of the transitional house location.

I was fortunate to attend a Fettuccine Forum last night, where a leading urban policy analyst showed the “drive ’til you qualify” trend actually costs people more.

Jacky Grimshaw, vice president for Policy, Transportation and Communications at Chicago’s Center for Neighborhood Technology, presented some fascinating studies showing that higher transportation costs more than eat up the savings on the suburban mortgage. In some cases, suburbanites may spend two-thirds of their household income on transportation and housing, leaving one-third for food, clothing, utilities, education, recreation and discretionary income. When transit is available to these suburban residents, they can keep their transportation costs down, in some cases getting rid of one car altogether.

But transit alone isn’t enough; you need a certain kind of land use, one that allows people to comfortably walk from the transit stop to their home, store or office. The original downtowns of Treasure Valley cities are good local exmples, but certainly not the only way to do it. Grimshaw called for  for Transit-Oriented Development. Peter Calthorpe discusses TODs more detail his site, but it basically involves building high-quality but dense housing and neighborhood-oriented businesses around transit stops, a modern updating of the time-honored Main Street way of dense American development.

During questioning, a few people in the audience said the Legislature needs to give cities local option taxation authority, to better fund transit. For their part, however, cities haven’t done much in the past 90 years to build transit-friendly development, despite two decades of comprehensive plans calling for such development. Huge parking lots still intrude between streets and storefronts, cul-de-sacs and long residential blocks remain common and shopping centers remain walled off from neighborhoods. The Legislature isn’t developing our cities – we are – and until we show show they are serious about building for transit, we undermine our calls for greater taxing authority.

At the same time, cities shoot for the most expensive, least-flexible transportation option available: rail, which requires an extremely
dense urban form. I’d say less than 5 percent of the surface area of Boise is rail ready, none of it built in the past 90 years, save maybe for some upscale planned communities, and these are exurban or at the fringes. A busway (or bus priority system) is more suited to our Western sprawl; in a busway, existing rail corridors are paved for emergency and transit use only, retaining their crossing arms and priority to pass, but the busses can leave the busway and go onto city streets as needed. This combines the flexibility of busses with the priority of rail, but the idea isn’t even seriously considered in this area.

After the presentation, I asked Grimshaw if there was some intermediate type of development, something short of a full-blown TOD, that cities could shoot for. Grimshaw wasn’t immediately aware of such a development type, but agreed it’s something to consider. If and when the rails or bus lines do ever come, riders must be let off in a pedestrian-friendly area with housing, neighborhood commercial and workplaces all within walking distance. Such a development style could mesh well with efforts by Victor Dover and other planners to revitalize and redevelop strip malls, as well as with greenfield development.

If we ever are to make the leap from auto-dependent development to transit-friendly development, we will need some intermediate urban form. That’s more of question for professional planners than policy wonks like me, but I would like to see some suggestions on