In Canyon County, where population and economic growth ordinarily is not just approved of but eagerly sought, organizations like the Canyon County Agricultural Planning Area Committee usually start with an easily accepted point of view: Mo’ growth, mo’ better.
But not so much at their last meeting in Caldwell.
The group, which will be advising the county on zoning and its comprehensive plan, was considering the question of the use of land for farming as opposed to land for housing.
A report in the Idaho Press Tribune said that “Some attendees expressed concern about Meridian development spilling over into the farmland in North Nampa. One Nampa farmer told staff that development was happening in his area quicker than he had ever seen.” One spoke of a “wall of houses” encroaching from Ada County into Canyon.
Another farmer replied, “It’s not a wall of houses. It’s a tidal wave.”
Also last week, a group of mostly Canyon Countians spoke similarly at the new, small city of Star, where a local comprehensive plan change might lead to turning 5,000 rural acres into medium or low-density housing. Star is in Ada County, in what has long been an agricultural northwest corner of it, but it’s close by Canyon, and the spillover effects were concerning for a crowd of 300 people - larger than the norm for a planning commission meeting in a small town.
These kind of developments have been happening at increasing speed, and seem likely to accelerate as long as growth does in the Ada-Canyon area.
The reasons go beyond developer pressure to be allowed to do more business. The fact that demand is so high is a large part of the reason for this tidal wave of houses.
A day after touring some of the huge fields of new houses in western Ada County, the big new crop in that area, I had coffee with an old friend who lived for many years on the east coast, a former Idahoan moving back to his old home area.
But not exactly into his old town of Boise; he had to settle for several miles away from it. He intended moving back there. But it didn’t work out, because he could find no houses (at least, suitable) in Boise for near what he could pay - and that’s after selling his comparable place in an eastern state metro area. Houses with a price tag under $200,000 are rare birds now in Boise, and hard to find nearby. If you’re an average income homebuyer, and your income is below the executive level, you’re going to have a hard time finding a place there.
One reason is that there isn’t enough residential space available to meet the need.
What we’re seeing now may be another housing bubble; in fact, probably it is. But for now, housing is in too limited supply in the Boise region, and in other regions around Idaho - in Kootenai County, in Twin Falls and elsewhere. If you can afford high-end digs, you have ample choices. If you can’t, you’re probably in a difficult market.
This is something Idaho officials are going to have to come to grips with. Want to both preserve farmland and house the people of the Gem State? Some better answers are going to have to be found.