Dry Creek Ranch Plan is a Lesson For Yesterday 

click to enlarge - The Dry Creek area includes farmland and the community of Hidden Springs. -  - GOOGLE MAPS
  • Google Maps
  • The Dry Creek area includes farmland and the community of Hidden Springs.
I ride my road bike through the Dry Creek area all the time. It's an attractive route that combines steep, rolling hills and long straightaways. You can lose yourself in those hills, and I'm certain other cyclists, motorists and runners do the same—letting the stark desert landscape morph into a rich, rural one before their eyes.

The ride has just one flaw: the Hidden Springs housing development. I can't figure out what it's doing there, miles from the nearest grocery or hardware store, tucked into the picturesque Boise Foothills like a bulwark against the small farms and spacious estates that surround it. It has always struck me as a place where people go to be close to other people who want to get away from it all.

More people who want to get away from it all may be getting away from it all in a new development to the northwest of Hidden Springs called Dry Creek Ranch. That doesn't sit well with current property owners in the hills around Hidden Springs. They made their case Feb. 15 before the Ada County Commission that Dry Creek Ranch should be scrapped, arguing the development would obliterate the environmental and historical heritage of Dry Creek, and push small farmers out of the valley.

It's unlikely they'll get their way. Posed to the Ada County Commission was the question of whether it would approve changes to Boise Hunter Homes' plans for the future site of Dry Creek Ranch—not whether it should allow BHH to develop the property. That was settled in 2010 when the commission initially approved the development plan. Some day something is going to be built there.

The version of the Dry Creek Ranch project considered by the commission is somewhat scaled down from original proposals. The number of housing units has been reduced from 3,500 to 1,800, and commercial space has been reduced to 85,000 square feet. Meanwhile, open space has increased from 390 acres to 471 acres.

Its aesthetic is that of a hobby farm, complete with lots of room for backyard gardens, picturesque paths along Dry Creek, stalls for a farmers market and space for horses, which figured heavily in BHH representative Heath Clark's presentation to the commission. Throw in the Man in Black and a maze at the center, and it would be Westworld.

This live-in theme park will displace fertile topsoil without precedent in the Treasure Valley—up to six feet deep in some places—and the families and small businesses that farm it. Prior to the commission meeting, Josie Erskine, of Peaceful Belly Farm, said even the downsized plan for Dry Creek Ranch is still a foot in the door for future development. Referring to a map of Ada County's long-term growth plan, she noted the site of her farm is marked for development along with the rest of the Dry Creek area and other historical farmlands. Don't try to tell her Dry Creek will be limited to 1,800 homes when it's approved for 3,500 homes, "because I'm not a fool," she said.

Farming in Ada County is on the decline because it's easier to build on the land than till it. The market for houses with spacious backyards, three-car garages and personalized lawn boulders is stronger than the market for locally sourced food, open spaces, frontiers between cities and wildlife corridors.

Or, at least, it was. The Ada County Commission approved the development of Dry Creek Ranch in 2010, long after it developed Hidden Springs; but, in 2015, voters approved the two-year, $10 million Open Spaces Clean Water levy by a shocking 74 percent. The significance of that vote can't be understated: That was the moment Boiseans chose to tax themselves rather than see continued development in the foothills and open spaces.

The so-called Foothills Levy vote wasn't an isolated incident. During the public comment period during drafting of Ada County's 2025 Comprehensive Plan, staff received so much correspondence about agricultural and open spaces preservation that, for the first time, they were included as priorities for the county going forward. This could be a prelude to voters again placing limits on the proliferation of subdivisions that turned Meridian and Eagle into seemingly endless, center-less sprawl.

It won't be enough to save Dry Creek. As commissioners Dave Case and Rick Visser pointed out in closing the Feb. 15 meeting, Boise Hunter Homes will have to jump through Ada County's hoops in order to develop Dry Creek Ranch, but that will only hold back the excavators and cement trucks for so long. The time for blocking this particular development is long past. Even some on the commissioners expressed regret.

"It's too bad we didn't do something 10 years ago," Visser said.

A vote on the amended Dry Creek Ranch plan is slated to take place at the Ada County Courthouse at 9 a.m., Tuesday, Feb. 21.
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