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Churches on University Drive navigate legal roadblocks in effort to relocate

Among the usual Monday morning traffic on University Drive, it’s not uncommon to see students popping in and out of the doors of the churches lining the roadside—particularly those of St. Paul’s and the Boise LDS Institute.

As Boise State plans its expansion, the churches have found themselves faced with an issue of real estate. On the map for Boise State’s Master Plan, a set of “proposed buildings” are placed across from the Administration Building—precisely where the churches currently stand.

For some students, this expression of interest in expansion on the part of the University appears to communicate an inevitable push for the property owned by these religious institutions. According to President Bob Kustra, three churches along University Drive—St. Paul’s, The Church in Boise and the LDS Institute—have been in contact with Boise State regarding the current lack of options in relocation and expansion.

“(St. Paul’s and the LDS Institute) have come to us, telling us they want to move. They want to expand,” Kustra said. “However, their expansion efforts can’t really happen where they are. We’ve been working with St. Paul’s now for at least a year.”

David Hoekema, an elder with The Church in Boise, said they were also in contact with the University regarding their property a few years ago, and are planning to resume talks within the next year. The LDS Institute declined to comment on any plans for expansion or relocation.

According to Jack Bentz, a priest and administrator of St. Paul’s Catholic Student Center, the challenge now is working with Boise State to navigate a complicated landscape of real estate and legal challenges.

“You can hold onto the idea that we’ll be here forever, but that’s just not realistic.,” Bentz said. “Eventually, University Drive will be instruction buildings. That’s what they want—and it makes sense. With the inclusion of the ‘B’ and the Admin Building, (University Drive) is much more the center now, rather than the edge. But there aren’t many places they can grow.”

Barriers in the law

According to Kevin Satterlee, chief operating officer of the Campus Operations Department, limited space has been a present issue throughout the entire process of campus expansion. Though the University currently owns most of the land south of University Drive and East of Lincoln Ave, the opposite side of Lincoln Avenue is still mostly owned by private landowners.

“We think over the next 30 years, if we continue our growth pattern, we will eventually need more land and move in that direction,” Satterlee said. “For now, what that means is for people living in those areas, if they’re interested in selling, we’re interested in buying from them.”

This slow process of acquiring land for the University has proven even more difficult for the churches, which are much smaller in size and influence. According to Satterlee, situations like these are sometimes circumvented using a method in which the University secures land and then exchanges that new property with the second party.  However, under Idaho law—specifically Section 7-701A—a state institution, such as Boise State, is prohibited from securing property for the purpose of swapping with a second party.

According to Bentz, this piece of legislation—which was passed in Idaho in 2006—has made the relocation effort even more complicated. In an attempt to rectify the problem, Bentz and Satterlee approached Bruce Newcomb, government relations specialist with the President’s Office. Together, they proposed the idea of presenting an amendment, which would allow an exception to the law in this case. This was met with resistance when presented.

“We had some talks with some members of the legislature, but the impression we were given is a bill like that probably wouldn’t pass right now,” Satterlee said.

Satterlee said it’s not likely efforts to push the amendment will continue; however, Bentz was more hopeful.

“There are many sensible leaders within the legislature with whom we all met,” Bentz said. “We will hopefully continue to push with an amendment, but that’s years away at this point.”

Why the rush?

While St. Paul’s and The Church in Boise both indicated their efforts to relocated are at least partially motivated out of respect for Boise State’s goals to expand, their actions are also a preemptive measure to deal with future changes to University Drive. Currently, Boise State’s plan is to reroute its main street toward the south, turning the current University Drive into a pedestrian area.

While this change will be designed to create a safer passage for students, the lack of motor traffic would dramatically impact access to the church buildings on campus where they are now, according to Bentz.

“It makes sense, once you have classes and residences on both sides, but what that will do is begin to landlock certain organizations, including ours,” Bentz said. “We would like to be ahead of that—to already have a plan. So both parties are trying to be proactive.”

Satterlee echoed this sentiment, saying this “landlocking” would negatively impact the churches’ expansion, as well as Boise State’s religious population among students.

“Everyone thinks about it in terms of how Boise State has grown over the past 10 years. But as we’ve grown, so has the demand for their religious services,” Satterlee said. “St. Paul’s, in particular, is ready to expand, but they’re landlocked, too. It’s in all of our best interests to find a new, permanent place to expand, which also allows us a place to expand as well.”

The church expansions

Though Boise State plans to build multiple new residential halls in the coming years, the churches’ efforts to expand may provide students with even more options when it comes to on-campus living. Through their talks with Boise State, both St. Paul’s and the LDS Institute have expressed interest in building their own residential facilities.

“(We’ve been trying) to find a way (St. Paul’s) can have residential housing attached to the church,” Kustra said. “The LDS Institute is also interested in expanding—I believe their interest is also to have some residential living involved. That hasn’t worked out yet, which is more out of our control, but we support their efforts in building their residential spaces.”

Satterlee also expressed enthusiasm about these religious-based living facilities, saying they would provide options that Boise State, as a state institution, is unable to provide. The LDS Institute did not provide comments on their plans, but Bentz laid out his vision for what St. Paul’s expansion could be.

“We would like to build out a chapel, a student center and a Catholic dormitory—or at least a faith-based residence hall,” Bentz said. “It really suits the University’s needs. They’re in the business of educating people, not housing.”

Regardless of the current circumstances surrounding the churches and their relocation needs, Satterlee expressed confidence in their ability to come to a solution.

“Here’s where we are philosophically—the University very much wants to continue having those religious institutions next to campus. So many of our students have differing religious faiths, and they like having that as a part of their education,” Satterlee said. “That’s why our master plan includes space on the edge of our campus where those faith-based institutions can continue to operate. All this make a little bit harder, but we’ll figure it out.”

About Brandon Rasmussen (46 Articles)
Brandon Rasmussen is an junior English major at Boise State, with an emphasis in rhetoric and composition. He previously worked with Boise State Public Radio, has been a part of multiple musical ensembles on campus and is currently the vice president of the Creative Outlet Writing Club. Brandon will continue next year to finish his degree and tell more long-winded stories about temp work and beans.

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