BOISE • Urban renewal might not be popular with Idaho’s legislators, but lawmakers aren’t ready to eliminate the districts just yet.

After two days of testimony, the House Local Government Committee voted 5-4 Tuesday to hold a bill that would eliminate urban renewal districts in Idaho.

During the testimony, the committee heard arguments for and against the bill. Former state Sen. Rachel Gilbert of Boise called urban renewal “food stamps for businesses.”

“I’ve watched urban renewal districts grow across this state. There are now 70 urban renewal districts across the state of Idaho,” Gilbert said. Those districts took $52 million from the property tax base in Idaho, she said, adding that the free market should determine which businesses succeed.

Developer Scott Schoenherr of Boise testified against the bill, saying thriving downtowns are key to a community’s identity and economic survival. On Friday, Twin Falls Economic Development Director Melinda Anderson also testified against the bill.

Recently, $17.15 million in urban renewal money provided incentives for yogurt company Chobani to build a new facility outside Twin Falls, including land aquisition, wastewater improvements, water lines, water meters, and infrastructure for natural gas and electic.

The committee also considered a bill that would require urban renewal districts to get approval from two-thirds of county voters before incurring any new debt.

Anderson testified on Tuesday against the second bill, saying quick action is essential when trying to attract new businesses.

“All I know is companies won't wait around for a vote of the electorate to determine whether or not a project will come to fruition,” she said.

The committee voted to hold the bill and allow sponsor Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, to make changes.

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