Kastera's Catalyst 

Five years after the Foothills Levy, a proposed development pokes into Boise's foothills

When he received it back in March, Paul Werner almost threw the letter out. The colorful flier looked at first to Werner like a solicitation for a homebuilding company.

Instead, it was a notice from Kastera Homes, an Eagle developer informing Werner and his neighbors that the company had purchased 270 acres above Werner's house in the foothills above Hill Road and were considering developing the property.

The simple one-page letter, signed by Kastera's director of planning, Wayne Forrey, invited Werner and his neighbors to an open house to talk about the parcel.

"We acquired this property to develop estate homesites and dedicated open space that will include hiking and biking trails," Forrey wrote. "It is our desire to develop one of the finest new additions to Boise within this neighborhood."

And that was the end of Werner's relaxed evening.

"I didn't even sleep that night," Werner said. "It bothered me so much. It caught me off guard."

Near the fifth anniversary of Boise's famous Foothills Levy, which saved thousands of acres above Idaho's capitol city, it seems that the foothills are as popular as ever. The problem, residents in the Hill Road area say, is that popularity extends to developers who know houses built there will sell quickly.

Now, neighbors all along Hill Road below the foothills are stirring, perhaps belatedly, trying to find a way to protect their slice of Boise's front. Their original astonishment that someone might plant a subdivision in their view has inspired action, but it has also created some divisions within the neighborhood. Among the many divergent views about the Kastera Homes proposal, you can find people who want to work with Kastera to make sure they preserve the popular hiking and biking trails, to people who want to stop the builders cold. File Sarah Wiltz in the "stop them cold" category.

"I'm standing here with my very small stick, trying to fight off tigers," said Wiltz, a homeowner across Hill Road from Werner whose backyard, she said, looks up onto the proposed building site. She and others in the Sunset Neighborhood Association say they hope there's a way, any way, to keep Kastera out.

"The feeling is that this is the last open part of the foothills in the city," Wiltz said. "I don't want to see trophy homes up there."

Forrey isn't so sure she will.

"We're just getting started," Forrey said. Presuming that Kastera will go forward with big homes, little homes, or any homes at all for that matter, he said, is premature.

"We have not walked away from any alternative," Forrey said. Although his company already has three different consulting firms on contract to analyze the feasibility for developing the property, Forrey said, they're still open to discussing other options that include no development.

However, they've been down that road before. Last winter, after Kastera acquired the property, they approached the City of Boise with the possibility of making a three-way land swap that would keep the Hill Road property empty, and grant Kastera some property in Canyon County, closer to other projects they've built. Last December they met with, among other people, Paul Woods of the city's Parks and Recreation Department. But three months after the meeting, they contacted the city to gauge their interest and were told, Forrey said, that it "might not be a high priority." Soon after that, Forrey drafted his note to the neighbors.

Woods confirmed the meeting didn't exactly result in a feasible plan for the foothills property. To make the land swap work, the city would have to deed land up Rocky Canyon Road to the federal government, land that was originally given to the city by a family trust. If the city hands such property over, Woods said, he might not be able to convince future donors that their land gifts would be safeguarded.

Woods also said he's not the guy to talk to about stopping the development. That, he said, is an issue for the city's planning department and the Boise City Council, which may ultimately decide the property's fate, if a development and annexation proposal goes forward.

Wiltz said one of their options could be a buyout of the property, which has been valued at about $2 million, Forrey said.

In the meantime, residents in the area are busily compiling reasons not to develop. Jody Orr, a transplant from Ketchum, frequently shows up in news reports saying the Boise foothills are one reason she thinks Boise's quality of life rivals that of her former home. Wiltz and others tout the heavy use the area gets by local high school athletic teams, who train on the estimated 10 miles of trails. Werner has posted photographs of blissed-out dog walkers on the Web site of the Central Foothills Neighborhood Association, which was begun primarily in response to the Kastera proposal.

None of which is lost on Forrey.

"It's a highly used piece of property; it needs to stay in good use," Forrey said. Any proposal his company develops, he said, will include trails and open space.

"We were just awestruck at how gorgeous it is, what a neat site it is for the entire city," Forrey said. "We want to be a good neighbor."

"Well, that's what he says," Werner replied. He takes pains to note, however, that the Central Foothills Neighborhood Association has not taken any position. They will meet next month to work on a unified statement, he said.

Wiltz is more direct: "I don't trust Kastera," she said. Werner's group, she said, is acting as if the Kastera development is "a done deal." Her neighborhood association, the Sunset Neighborhood Association, is meeting May 24 to come up with a plan.

At a barbecue in the neighborhood recently, Wiltz said, she and her neighbors agreed it was worth it to try something, anything.

"If we at least try, we'll feel better," Wiltz said.

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