City Planning Handbook

Boise's "City Planning Handbook" is an overview of the resources and processes the City of Boise uses when reviewing new developments. It details how community members can provide input during the review process and lists city departments and partner agencies that review development projects. | Download the Planning Handbook

Comprehensive Plan

Boise’s Comprehensive Plan, BLUEPRINT BOISE, establishes a broad vision for growth in Boise. The plan breaks the city into geographic planning areas and provides policy guidance for each. A series of master plans and neighborhood plans provide more specific guidance. 

The plan, which was adopted in 2011 after extensive outreach that included citizen input and community workshops, is based on seven key principles:

  1. Environmental Stewardship
  2. A Predictable Development Pattern
  3. Stable Neighborhoods and Mixed-Use Activity Centers
  4. A Connected Community
  5. A Community that Values its Culture, Education, Arts and History
  6. A Strong, Diverse Economy
  7. A Safe, Healthy and Caring Community

Zoning Ordinance

While the Comprehensive Plan establishes an overall vision for the city and provides the general policy guidance to achieve it, ZONING is the tool used to implement that vision.

Boise’s Zoning Ordinance establishes allowed and prohibited uses for every property in the city, as well as uses that are allowed under specific conditions. It also specifies dimensional standards such as height and setbacks. While the city has 23 unique zoning districts, properties are generally classified as residential, office, commercial and industrial. There are also open land and special purpose zones.

Allowed uses are almost exclusively regulated by the zoning ordinance. Discretionary permits (rezones, planned developments, conditional use permits, etc.) are influenced by the policies of the Comprehensive Plan.


Decision-Making Bodies

THE PLANNING DIRECTOR OR STAFF MEMBER are authorized to provide ordinance determinations. They issue final decisions on minor applications (such as duplexes, accessory dwelling units, home-based businesses, child care facilities and smaller design review and historic preservation applications). Administrative application review is primarily based on objective review criteria. Any administrative decision can be appealed to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

THE PLANNING AND ZONING (P & Z) COMMISSION makes the final decision on conditional use permits, planned unit developments and most variances. They also review appeals of administrative decisions and make recommendations to City Council on rezones, annexations and amendments to the ordinance and Comprehensive Plan. Any P & Z Commission decision can be appealed to City Council.

THE DESIGN REVIEW (DR) COMMITTEE reviews the aesthetics of multi-family residential, commercial, office and industrial projects located in the DESIGN REVIEW OVERLAY DISTRICT. Their oversight includes architecture, landscaping and site design. Their review is limited to projects that have allowed uses or have been previously approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission. They also review appeals of administrative design review decisions and make recommendations on ordinance amendments to the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council. Any DR Committee decision can be appealed to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

THE HISTORIC PRESERVATION COMMISSION reviews the aesthetics of projects that are within HISTORIC OVERLAY DISTRICTS. While they are independent of the Planning and Zoning Commission and similar to the Design Review Committee, they do not make decisions regarding the use of properties. They review appeals of administrative historic preservation decisions and make recommendations to City Council on ordinance amendments. Any decision of the Commission can be appealed to City Council.

CITY COUNCIL is the final legislative authority on zoning and land use decisions. They make decisions on rezones and amendments to the ordinance and comprehensive plan based on recommendations from the Planning and Zoning and Historic Preservation Commissions. They also review appeals of those board’s decisions.

How Decisions are Made

Each application is analyzed against a set of review criteria.

Decisions are generally based on objective standards. Depending on the type of application, input from partner agencies and city departments is required. Decisions are usually made within two weeks.

While decisions use some of the same objective criteria as administrative reviews, hearing-level applications are also reviewed against the comprehensive plan’s more subjective elements. Decisions are based on a recommendation from the Planning Team, input from partner agencies and public testimony (written and verbal). Decisions are rendered at the conclusion of the public hearing.

The Planning Department's Role

The Planning Team is responsible for helping both the public and applicants navigate the hearing process, regardless of the ultimate decision. They can provide guidance for filing applications and submitting both written and verbal testimony.

City planners prepare a STAFF REPORT and make recommendations to the decision-making bodies at public hearings. Recommendations are based on specific review criteria outlined by applicable law, the requirements of any commenting public agency, and correspondence received from the public.

The Public's Role: Get Involved + Influence Decisions

There are multiple opportunities throughout the development process for the public to ask questions, state concerns and help shape the nature of a project. Although the APPROVAL CRITERIA are unique for each application, they generally consist of the following:

  • Consistency with the comprehensive plan and related policy documents
  • Compatible with adjacent uses
  • Adequacy of infrastructure/ability to provide services
  • Compliance with applicable zoning regulations

Learn More

  • Planning Review Process for Public Hearings
  • Neighborhood Meeting Best Practices for Proposed Developments
  • Providing Testimony at a Public Hearing