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Small Boise-area town OKs emergency moratorium to halt growth. This is why

Posted at 11:41 AM, Jul 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-12 11:10:18-04

MELBA, Idaho — This article was originally published by Sally Krutzig in the Idaho Statesman.

Worried that growth could overrun the town, the Melba City Council has voted unanimously to impose an emergency moratorium on new subdivisions for up to six months. The City of Caldwell passed a similar moratorium in May.

The farm town of fewer than 600 people in southern Canyon County could see its population nearly double if three new subdivisions are built along with one already approved. Citing ‘imminent peril,’ Melba Council members say they need time to understand and plan for the sudden growth.

One proposal is for the Royalmaid Estates subdivision, owned by Melba livestock breeder Jon Mortensen. It would contain 18 homes on 20.3 acres on Randolph Avenue.

The second is for the Freedom Park subdivision, owned by Melba real estate agent Jon Stosich, for 32 homes on 13.3 acres of land on Blue Ox Lane.

A third proposal from property owner Eugene Borman, a Nampa veterinarian, would bring 11 homes on 2.7 acres to northwest Melba. The Planning and Zoning Commission did not accept Borman’s proposal, saying it included too many homes for the property size. However, the commission gave Borman time to make changes to bring his development in line with city codes. He is expected to submit an updated application.

A 26-house subdivision, Melba Estates, is already under construction near Southside Boulevard.

More than 30 people showed up to a public hearing Monday on the moratorium. Mayor Cory Dickard and Stosich said the county continues to grow. More people from outside the city are using city resources like schools without paying city taxes, they said.

“The schools are growing, but nothing in the town of Melba has grown,” Stosich said. “It’s all from outside. The school gets the tax dollars. The fire department gets the tax dollars. The cemetery gets the tax dollars. But Melba city does not.”

Melba resident James Daley said he is not against growth. He is hopeful it will bring in new businesses and more money to schools. He noted that there are few places to eat or for kids to spend time.

“Melba is definitely a town that is in dire need of some growth,” Daley said. “I feel that for those who truly love this community, this is something that we want. I agree with everyone that said it needs to be done wisely.”

Another resident, Alicia Petersen, testified that she didn’t “see anyone (benefiting) from this other than those who are invested in this project.”

“What it’s going to bring is big city,” Petersen said. “It’s going to make property taxes go up. It’s going to make water taxes go up. It’s going to make a higher presence of police force, possible crime, loitering homeless.”

Concerns about water were brought up both by city officials and the public. City Engineer Mike Davis said there are concerns about nitrate levels, which are trending upward in one city well, and water scarcity. If enough people move in, a new well may need to be built, Davis said.

Stosich requested the City Council allow the projects currently in the works be allowed to continue and the moratorium apply only to new applications. The council ultimately denied the request.

“It’s pretty easy to say it’s unfair,” Council Member Tyler Stapleton said. “(The developers) pretty much agreed to everything we’ve asked for. But the issue isn’t whether it’s fair or not. The issue is we need to get the process ironed out and get them done the right way.”

After suspending the three readings rule, the City Council voted to approve Ordinance No. 275 to create the moratorium halting all current applications. It could last up to 182 days. They also voted to publish a notice and summary of the ordinance.

City Council members named two reasons for its necessity. First, the city does not know how Idaho’s new property tax law will affect the city’s budget. Under the law, local governments can increase their property tax budgets by no more than 8%, regardless of the fact that Melba’s population could increase by as much as 100%. It also caps added city tax revenue from new construction projects and annexation at 90% of their taxable value. Calling the law ‘confusing,’ city officials say they are still struggling to understand its implications.

Second, council members have been working on a new ordinance to govern the building of subdivisions. They hope it will allow new residential areas to be built in a way that integrates the subdivisions into the city in a way that satisfies current residents. The ordinance would include the regulation of lot sizes, street sizes and housing spacing.

The council also voted in two new members to the Planning and Zoning Commission, Tori Vogel and Megan Brown.

A public hearing on the approval of the subdivisions themselves was previously scheduled for June. After the resignation of two commission members, the public hearing was postponed. The new appointments will allow the Planning and Zoning Commission to set a new public hearing date on Freedom Park and Royalmaid Estates.