For more than 20 years, developers wanted to establish what would become West Boise’s main shopping area, near the connector and where the Boise Towne Square mall now stands. But there was a catch.
Several developers have come and gone, unable to overcome one major obstacle: the Otts.
Owners of a 10-acre farm in West Boise with a farmhouse built in 1908, the couple did not want to participate in the suburbanization of their hometown.
They had prime real estate, right where a mega-mall and a mall could go – should go.
But the Otts weren’t moving.
Their stubbornness, their refusal to tolerate urbanization, caused a wrinkle in the West Boise cityscape that motorists still know today.
“More wildlife sanctuary than farm”
In the 1970s, two mall developers wanted land just north of the I-184 connector, including Harry Daum, who had built the Karcher Mall in Nampa.
The Otts’ property at 501 N. Ash Park Lane was smack in the middle of where a shopping mecca could be, and their refusal wiped out at least two planned developments, according to the Idaho Statesman’s report to the time.
After moving from Big Pine, California to Boise in 1960, the Otts had built a rural life miles from the big city – Boise – and settled down to grow hay and raise animals.
All kinds of animals.
Sheep. Turkeys. Peacocks. Five cats. A dog. Horses. A cow and a calf. Geese. Chickens. Roosters. Rabbits. Ducks. Pheasants. Quail. Chukars. Hungarian partridges. Guinea fowls.
“Ott land is more of a wildlife sanctuary than a farm,” a Statesman article said.
Peg Ott said she had a thing for animals and couldn’t fend off strays.
Two century-old willows grew on their land and their farm had a dirt floor.
The Otts grew much of their own food in a garden, tended fruit trees, and had a well and septic tank.
“I guess we could get a good price out of it,” Larry Ott told a Statesman reporter. “But we couldn’t find a way to take it with us.”
One of the developers, Daum, offered them 10 times what other neighboring landowners had offered, Peg Ott told the Statesman in the 1980s.
She said she had no ill will towards the developers and said the difference between them and her was simple: “Their priorities are different. They are there for the money. I’m here for the shelter and the birds and the bees.
A curve in the road
The resistance of the Otts meant that growth had to be built around them. This resulted in features that are still present today.
“This whole area was planned really in unison,” Jeff Huber, a White-Leasure Development Co. broker who was involved in developing the area, told the Boise City Council Aug. 30. “Everyone thought this road was going to go straight through here. Everyone except Mrs. Ott and her farm.
Huber was at the council meeting to appeal a decision by the Planning and Zoning Commission not to allow Westpark Shopping Centre, which is opposite the mall, to expand an existing landmark sign for its businesses .
Huber said one reason better signage was needed is that Milwaukee Street curves between Franklin Road and Emerald Street, forcing drivers to focus on the road and preventing them from looking long at passing stores.
This curve is due to the Otts.
Boise’s broad grid of main thoroughfares, predictable in their regularity, made a concession to the Otts and folded.
The segment of road past the old farm now sees a daily average of 23,163 vehicles, according to the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho.
An island in a sea of shops
In 1982, a new Salt Lake City broker and developer went ahead with yet another planned mall. And again, the Otts dug their heels in.
The previous decade, the Otts had agreed to let a local developer apply to have the area around them annexed by Boise and zoned for commercial buildings. But the condition, their lawyer told the Statesman, was that the property become a “community shopping center and office buildings” rather than a regional shopping center.
The developer, Larry Leisure, disagreed. He wanted to put in a big mall. He said the agreement the parties signed never limited the type of mall he could design. A judge finally agreed and the mall was built.
But the Otts stayed, resulting in the “largest mall berm in the state” to block out the sights and sounds of the mall, according to an article in the Statesman.
“A stone’s throw from one of the largest malls in the Northwest…the only sounds are the cooing of doves and the ticking of an antique clock,” the article said.
“We don’t know,” said Peg Ott. “I just don’t pay any attention to it.”
“There are people who think the only green that matters is the dollar green,” she said. “We do not agree.”
A few years later, in 1987, more developers wanted more shopping on the land west of the mall, necessitating a further annexation of land from Ada County. The Otts stayed, stores were built, and another 10-foot berm was installed to protect the farm island.
“It was strictly rural”
When the Otts moved to Boise in 1960, there was no freeway. Their property was surrounded by dairy farms. The intersection of Cole Road and Fairview Avenue had two gas stations and an Albertson’s. The city limits were far to the east.
“It was strictly rural and it changed through no fault of ours,” Peg Ott said in 1982. “I’m still in a rural district. I don’t know for everyone.
“It’s the only place for them”
By 1996 Larry and Peg Ott had passed away. After they died, the land was sold, and what had been their farm is now where Old Navy and Dave and Buster are, Huber said.
Huber told the statesman he used to visit the Otts, who invited him for “cowboy coffee.”
The coffee was good – really good. The secret? Tins of condensed milk were added to it, he said.
There were blue jays inside the house, a woodstove, and Peg had lost parts of her index finger and her thumb from a woodcutting accident.
“I would do anything I could to try to get him to sell his property,” Huber said, noting that he had been offered millions of dollars. “We’ve all heard of the money, but apparently not with Ms. Ott. »
In 1989, after the mall opened, Peg Ott told a Statesman reporter that she had only been to the million-square-foot mall once, when a loose dog chased the birds off her farm and that she took him to the mall to return him.
“We know (the mall) is there, of course, but our place is pretty much the same as it always has been,” she said. “There aren’t as many quails and pheasants as before, because there isn’t as much cover, but we have more critters. We are up to about 45 ducks now. They come to us because it’s the only place for them.
The city council unanimously overruled the planning and zoning commission’s decision, allowing Huber and the mall to add the names of other businesses to their signage.
So the next time you’re driving around that curve and looking at those signs, or the next time you’re dining at Dave and Busters, think of the quails, pheasants and ducks that were once here. Think of Peg Ott.