A simmering, would-be scandal involving College of Western Idaho plans to develop a satellite campus in Boise’s West End appears more interesting than it is in reality.
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Detractors allege the CWI Board of Trustees erred in judgement in agreeing to buy a 10-acre parcel of land two miles from the heart of downtown without first obtaining an independent appraisal of the land’s value. Not long after the purchase was announced, board chairwoman Mary Niland told The Idaho Statesman that the decision to proceed without an independent appraisal was a “mistake,” but she insisted the board had not overpaid for the property.
As recently as Wednesday, May 6, Ada County Commissioner David Case weighed in on the subject in a letter advising Niland to cancel the purchase and renegotiate the price only after a current appraisal.
At issue, according to critics, was the parcel’s $8.8 million purchase price, agreed upon by trustees, which, taken at face value, does not square with the county’s 2014 assessed value of $3.6 million. Without an independent appraisal, that seemingly bargain-basement assessment was all the media had to go on.
But as noted in original reports on the subject, Idaho Code dictates CWI was not required to have the land appraised prior to acquisition. And Niland’s right: an independent assessment of the property wouldn’t have mattered as the assessed value of land for tax purposes is a poor proxy for determining the selling price.
Previously home to the Bob Rice Ford dealership, 3150 W. Main was once an outpost on the key artery delivering traffic out of the city core — prior to construction of the “Flying Wye” (Interstate 184). Aging buildings on the property weren’t demolished until mid-2013.
Located just west of the newly created Whitewater Park Boulevard, the former Bob Rice Ford lot is, according to multiple studies, well positioned for future growth, and boasts numerous pluses for a college campus. Close proximity to the Boise River and greenbelt offer multimodal access and aesthetic qualities, while its position squarely within the city’s up-and-coming 30th Street urban renewal zone offers numerous benefits as the area is redeveloped in coming decades. Furthermore, the lot is zoned C-5, allowing for a broad list of uses as in the central business district. Most of the city’s existing C-5 zone is concentrated in downtown.
A few short years ago the location was also a frontrunner for a nebulous proposal to replace the Boise Hawks’ Memorial Stadium in Garden City, with a more contemporary venue somewhere in downtown Boise.
A report commissioned by the Better Boise Coalition in 2011 evaluating proposed sites for the stadium project looked closely at the Bob Rice Ford lot — which sported an asking price at the time of $1.5 million per acre for the 10-acre parcel. The report also stated that the Rice Family Trust wanted more than $10 million for the property.
At the end, the report included a tax assessment sheet noting that the property’s assessed value for that year (2011) was just shy of $3.5 million. Today the valuation has increased only slightly to $3.6 million, according to Ada County Assessor records.
Price sheets for property offered for sale in the Meridian area suggest a similar disconnect between assessed value and perceived market value. Prices range anywhere from $7.00 – $17.50 per square foot for land that not so long ago was used to produce crops.
Take the bare lot at 2954 W. Franklin Road, priced at $6.00 per square foot. The total price for 38 acres, as listed, is $9,931,680. That area of Meridian is much less dense, and the land was until very recently an empty field (and before that, farmland).
The assessed value of that parcel, at $37,400, has little bearing on the nearly $10 million asking price. The current owners of the property likely wouldn’t deign to have assessors charge a property tax bill based on what the property could someday become.
If voters feel strongly that Idaho’s community colleges should be required to go through a more extensive process prior to assembling property for sale or purchase, they should bring that issue to the Idaho Legislature, rather than pontificating on the value of urban real estate, perceived or otherwise.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.