TWIN FALLS — At a community workshop last week, Urban Renewal Agency Executive Director Nathan Murray didn’t get exactly what he’d hoped for.
The URA has five years left to make public improvements in the downtown and warehouse districts of Twin Falls. The revenue allocation area “4-1” was created in 1998 and expires at the end of 2022. After that, the URA no longer gets tax money from that area — and therefore can’t reinvest that money.
That means it’s time to prioritize what the agency should do with its remaining time. The URA has other areas it can work in, surrounding Chobani and Clif Bar, but the opportunities on those lands are more limited.
“This really is the only area we have right now which has multiple property owners,” Murray said at the workshop Tuesday.
Participants included URA directors, City Council members and the public. Altogether, they pitched about a dozen ideas at the workshop.
But Murray didn’t get the narrow priority list he’d been hoping for. When everyone voted for their favorite ideas at the end, it was still all over the board.
Murray conservatively estimates the URA will have about $2.5 million in uncommitted funds over the next five years. To work best on that budget, he plans to gather more input through online surveys and URA board meetings to narrow priorities.
Here are seven projects that attendees of Tuesday’s workshop identified as the most important to them for the area, and what the URA could do to help the downtown get them.
“We have a number of infrastructure priorities,” Murray said. “But the thing that seems to be getting the most attention is the housing.”
Attendees at Tuesday’s workshop talked about a need for different kinds of housing — duplexes, fourplexes and upstairs apartments in mixed-use buildings
“I think it’s our No. 1 priority,” URA chairman Dan Brizee said.
Getting people to live downtown will ultimately support downtown businesses, he said.
One opportunity the URA has to bring housing to downtown is the Idaho Youth Ranch building. The agency purchased the property for about $500,000 dollars in January. Murray said the URA will solicit proposals from developers in a couple of weeks.
“Our preference would be housing,” he said. “And our preference would be to keep the building and repurpose it.”
The entire Hansen Street corridor has gotten the most interest from developers considering housing projects, he said. The problem, however, is nobody wants to be first.
The URA could take out some of the risk for a developer by selling the Youth Ranch building at a loss. The agency will be forced to sell all of its downtown properties by the end of 2022.
Albion Street is technically outside the URA’s revenue allocation area, but much of the downtown businesses dump into a sewer line there. The city’s engineering department previously identified Albion Street’s sewer line as a bottleneck that could significantly inhibit future growth.
It could cost up to $1 million to install a bigger line. This would be the URA’s top priority, Murray said, if it opts to pursue a single utility project.
It’s been an ongoing mission of transportation committees to get the Idaho 30 rerouted off the Second Avenues to Washington Street South, Sixth Avenue West and Minidoka Avenue. This would divert trucks away from downtown.
The city could then reduce speeds on the Second Avenues, making them more pedestrian friendly, and even remove a lane of traffic for diagonal parking.
“You’d have lower traffic, yes, but you’d have the type of traffic you want down there,” Murray said.
Unfortunately, a project of this scope would be largely outside of the URA’s budget. And the first step would be to acquire right-of-way for the alternative route.
But the agency host community workshops, hire a consultant and send a traffic analysis model to the Idaho Transportation Department.
“It’s an important enough factor for our downtown that our Urban Renewal Agency should be looking at how to move that forward,” Murray said.
Russ Tremayne, associate professor of history at the College of Southern Idaho, has made it is mission to complete a history-themed park at the grain silos in Old Towne Twin Falls. The park has some native plants and benches, but Tremayne asked the URA if it could finish the project with signage and public art.
Murray said this was the first time he had heard about the park, but several others put their support behind the proposal. The URA could help install sidewalk, public art, signage, street lighting or a drinking fountain to help complete the project.
While this isn’t one of Murray’s priorities, it could come up for future discussion.
If people are going to live downtown, a nearby grocery store or market would be a boon to those residents. But Murray thinks the chances of getting one downtown are low. Grocery stores typically operate in tight margins and require high traffic volumes to keep them going.
Still, if a company proposed one, the URA could assist by paying for public infrastructure such as parking, sidewalks or utilities.
City Councilwoman Suzanne Hawkins was one of several who supported the idea of getting a bed-and-breakfast or a hotel into the downtown area. This, in addition to housing, would help bring people to support the local businesses.
While the former Wells Fargo building, for example, would have the size required for a hotel, it would be an expensive investment. Murray prefers to allow hotel owners to take the lead on whether they want to come downtown, and if so, the URA could help with improvements such as a parking garage.
“I don’t think we’re there yet,” he said. “But in the future, who knows?”
One attendee at the workshop pointed out that a lot at Fifth Avenue South is listed for sale. The grassy area had previously been used as the Rock Canyon Amphitheater, an outdoor concert venue — and the grass that’s been planted is starting to die off.
Were the URA to purchase this property, it could bring another concert venue to Twin Falls and pay to complete an art mural that was never finished.
Other workshop attendees brought up the idea of an amphitheater right next to Rock Creek Canyon. The URA already owns several properties south of Minidoka Avenue, and could purchase more to get an amphitheater developed.
Murray is skeptical this idea will move forward.
“I do think it’s important that we support the arts as much as we can,” he said.
But another concert venue, he said, wouldn’t do the most good for the most amount of people. He’d rather see better access to Rock Creek Canyon and more improvements to its trails.
Still, if this were identified as a priority, the URA could partner to assist another group that would create the amphitheater.
RUPERT— Last summer Ray Eagle and his wife, Tress, found a new love.
The first painted rock they found was at Ridley’s Market sitting on a ledge. Ray didn’t know that hiding painted rocks was a trend — and he was hooked. The simple rock had likely been painted by a child and depicted a campfire.
“I liked it,” he said. “And I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to find more of these,’” he said.
Each one was unique, some simple or silly, others were works of art. Some they kept, and others they re-hid for someone else to discover.
The Rupert couple was soon making regular excursions to walking paths and parks in search of new finds. The couple doesn’t have a computer or internet, so they weren’t members of the Facebook group, “Burley Rocks,” that gives hints for where rocks are hidden.
Ray had no idea at the time that his newfound interest would play a part in keeping him alive when he suffered a heart attack six months later. On the morning of Dec. 7, Ray wasn’t feeling well when he woke.
“I felt bad, and I thought I wasn’t going to go look for rocks that day,” he said. “But, I decided to go anyway.”
His new habit of hunting for rocks along the Heyburn path meant instead of lying down for a nap when he didn’t feel well, he took a walk.
“If I wouldn’t have gone to the park I would have taken a nap,” he said. “And I probably wouldn’t have gotten back up.”
When he returned home, he had broken out in a sweat and his left arm hurt so he drove himself to the hospital, where he was told he was having a heart attack. From there, he was flown to St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center.
“He didn’t want me to go out rock hunting that day because it was too cold,” Tress said. “It was the first time we hadn’t gone out together.”
She was unaware of Ray’s condition until the hospital called, but when she rushed over there, he was already loaded in the helicopter, and she did not get to talk to him.
Doctors put stents in his wrists and told him they couldn’t do any more for him at the time. If he started to feel unwell, he was instructed to go to a Salt Lake City hospital for further treatment. By Christmas, his condition had deteriorated, and after a trip to the local hospital he was transferred to the Utah hospital. Ray underwent a triple bypass, with artery grafts taken from his leg and neck.
“Two days before the operation I could feel myself slipping away,” Ray said. “I didn’t feel like I had a couple of days left. I was getting weaker, and I felt like my organs were shutting down.”
While Ray was in the hospital the couple’s daughter Kayla Rodriguez, of Illinois, put up a Facebook post asking people to make rocks for him and leave them at his house. When he returned home after a 28-day stay in the hospital, dozens of stones painted by Mini-Cassia rock hunters waited for him, many with words of encouragement or messages.
“I cried a little bit when I saw them,” he said.
Daughter Melanie Rorris of Twin Falls, said her dad was struck by the number of people who cared enough to do something like that for someone.
“The simple things in life bring him joy,” she said. “He was so happy to go home and see what was waiting for him and he was really shocked at the number of rocks that had been left. It really meant something to him.”
Right now, Ray is still not well enough to walk outside, so he watches from the car as Tress goes out in search of the treasures.
“I can’t wait until I get better so I can go out looking for more,” he said. “In another three to four weeks, if the weather is nice, I’ll be out there trolling all over the place looking for rocks.”
If you do one thing: Buttons ‘N Bows Square Dance Club will hold a new class of beginning square dance lessons at 7 p.m. at the Jerome High School cafeteria, 104 Tiger Drive. First lesson is free.
TWIN FALLS — The city’s environmental engineer will provide an update Monday on odor complaints in northeast part of town.
At a Jan. 8 meeting, Twin Falls resident Alan Bleeker addressed the City Council regarding odors along Hankins Road, which he believed to be stemming from Chobani’s wastewater treatment facility. The city and the company have been working together to address the concerns.
“While we think this is due to a confluence of issues and have been assured there are no environmental, health or safety concerns, we took a close look at processes in our plant—and specifically the waste water treatment facility that we run in partnership with the City of Twin Falls—to determine any corrective actions on our end,” Chobani said in a statement emailed to the Times-News after the meeting. “As part of this work, we identified specific areas to limit any potential contributions and made several upgrades to the waste water treatment facility.”
Environmental Engineer Jason Brown is scheduled to appear before the Council for an update at the meeting Monday. The regular meeting at 5 p.m. will be preceded by a tour of the communications center at 4 p.m.
Also at the meeting, the Council is being asked to adopt an ordinance annexing a mixed use development on Pole Line Road East. The Rio Vista development is planned east of the Magic Valley Mall, which will be up for a public hearing for a zoning change later in the meeting.
Also on the agenda:
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump was wrong to assert that a GOP-produced classified memo on FBI surveillance powers cleared him in the Russia investigation, Democratic and Republican lawmakers said Sunday. They expressed hope that special counsel Robert Mueller’s work would continue without interference.
Democrats could seek a vote on publicly releasing their rebuttal memo when the GOP-led House Intelligence Committee meets late this afternoon. The committee rejected that move last week, with one Republican member saying revisions were needed so the memo would not endanger national security. The Senate’s Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, urged Trump to back the public release and said that refusing to do so would show the president’s intent to undermine the Russia investigation.
The committee’s top Democrat, California Rep. Adam Schiff, branded the GOP memo “a political hit job.” He questioned whether the chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., had coordinated with the White House in drafting the document seized on by the president to vent his grievances against the nation’s premier law enforcement agencies.
“The goal here is to undermine the FBI, discredit the FBI, discredit the Mueller investigation, do the president’s bidding,” Schiff said. “I think it’s very possible his staff worked with the White House.”
Nunes was asked during a Jan. 29 committee meeting whether he had coordinated the memo with the White House. “As far as I know, no,” he responded, then refused to answer when asked whether his staff members had communicated with the White House. He previously had apologized for sharing with the White House secret intelligence intercepts related to an investigation of Russian election interference before talking to committee members.
Trump’s Saturday tweet that the memo “totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe” even as “the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on” found no echo from four committee Republicans who appeared on the Sunday talk shows.
Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, said, “I think this is a separate issue.” Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said, “No, it doesn’t end that.” Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, said, “I don’t,” when asked whether he agreed with Trump. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., asked whether the memo affected the investigation, said, “No, not to me, it doesn’t, and I was pretty integrally involved in the drafting of it.”
The Democratic response was more expected: “Of course, not at all,” said Schiff. Added Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.: “No, of course it does not.”
Lawmakers also said the memo should not impede Mueller.
“I think it would be a mistake for anyone to suggest that the special counsel shouldn’t complete his work. I support his work. I want him to finish it. I hope he finishes it as quickly as possible,” Stewart said.
The memo released Friday alleges misconduct on the part of the FBI and the Justice Department in obtaining a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page and his ties to Russia. Specifically, it takes aim at the FBI’s use of information from former British spy Christopher Steele, who compiled a dossier containing allegations of ties between Trump, his associates and Russia.
The underlying materials that served as the basis for the warrant application were not made public in the GOP memo. Even as Democrats described it as inaccurate, some Republicans quickly cited the memo — released over the objections of the FBI and Justice Department — in their arguments that Mueller’s investigation is politically tainted.
The memo’s central allegation is that agents and prosecutors, in applying in October 2016 to monitor Page’s communications, failed to tell a judge that the opposition research that provided grounds for the FBI’s suspicion received funding from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Page had stopped advising the campaign sometime around the end of that summer.
Steele’s research, according to the memo, “formed an essential part” of the warrant application. But it’s unclear how much or what information Steele collected made it into the application, or how much has been corroborated.
Republicans said a judge should have known that “political actors” were involved in allegations that led the Justice Department to believe Page might be an agent of a foreign power — an accusation he has consistently denied.
The memo confirms the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign began in July 2016, months before the surveillance warrant was sought, and was “triggered” by information concerning campaign aide George Papadopoulos. He pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI.
The confirmation about Papadopoulos is “the most important fact disclosed in this otherwise shoddy memo,” Schiff said Saturday.
Schiff and Hurd spoke on ABC’s “This Week.” Stewart appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” Gowdy was on CBS’ “Face the Nation” and Wenstrup was interviewed on CNN’s “State of the Union.”