POCATELLO — A pending lawsuit against the city of Pocatello is about more than the $21 million a local family stands to lose, according to a member of the family.
Part of a written agreement that led to the development of the Northgate Parkway was an intersection. But that intersection was never constructed, limiting the landowners’ access to the land and eliminating the chances of the land being developed.
Lavelle Rupp, one of two trustees tasked with managing a 930-acre plot of land controlled by the Rupp Family Trust, told EastIdahoNews.com that this lack of access has forced the trust to turn away several opportunities he believes would be beneficial to the area. Those opportunities include commercial developments bringing thousands of jobs to southeast Idaho, and low-cost housing.
“This whole project up here, with the way it was done, has cost this community well over 3,000 jobs,” Rupp said.
The Rupp family has owned the land surrounding what is now the Northgate Parkway for 100 years. But, in 2017, the trust sold a 150 foot-wide strip of it to Millennial Development and Portneuf Development.
The strip leads from state land near the Interstate 15-Northgate Parkway interchange about three-quarters of a mile east about 200 yards past what is now a roundabout at the intersection of Northgate Parkway and Olympus Drive. The sale, which gave quick access from the interstate to the new Portneuf medical plaza, came with the agreement that it would include an intersection providing the Rupps access to their land. The Idaho Transportation Department-approved plan for the road included an intersection about 1,400 feet from the interstate.
But that intersection was never completed.
“By doing that, they have blocked all access to our farm so we cannot develop,” Rupp said. “The tort claim is about getting us our access that was agreed upon in a written sales agreement.”
As the road was being constructed in 2018, the Rupps looked into annexing their Bannock County land into either Chubbuck or Pocatello city. After meeting engineers from both cities, the trust determined that Chubbuck provided a better offer.
Upon annexing their land into the city of Chubbuck, however, the city of Pocatello and the Millennial Development partners cut the Rupp Family Trust out of discussions and decisions regarding the parkway land.
Not long after that, the city of Pocatello annexed the full 150-foot-wide strip. The 130-foot-wide parkway was dedicated to the city of Pocatello, with a 10-foot easement on either side remaining under the control of the Millennial Development partners — which by that time had formed Town Center JV, a separate development company.
The 10-foot easement on either side of the parkway means that even though the road is public, the Rupp family cannot access their land without crossing private property, according to Rupp.
On top of property rights concerns, the family still lacked an access point to their land. A potential point was blocked at the roundabout when the city of Pocatello placed a cement k-rail barrier.
After grievances from the “landlocked” Rupps made their way to Boise, the state demanded that the city of Pocatello provide 40-foot-wide agriculture access to the Rupp land. Plans were put together by city engineers and approved by the state.
The city never implemented that plan. Instead, it cut out a 25-foot-wide portion of the curb.
“The state sent all of the plans, which show that it was supposed to have been 40 feet wide, and it’s only 25 feet,” Rupp said. “They deceived the state of Idaho.”
The lack of a right-of-way has prevented the family from selling chunks of land in the area for commercial development — chunks for which the trust has received offers — costing the city opportunity for expansion. Rupp doesn’t understand why the city wouldn’t want expansion like he can offer.
Rupp continued, pointing to Pocatello’s lack of expansion over the years, and there is evidence to back that.
The city of Pocatello had a population of 54,255 in 2010, according to the Census Bureau. The city’s population as of 2020 is 56,320 — a growth rate of 4% over a decade.
By comparison, Idaho Falls, which had a population of 56,813 in 2010 has grown by 14% over that same period and is now home to 64,818. At 32.38-square-miles, Pocatello is significantly larger than Idaho Falls (which is 22.8-square miles) and has vastly outgrown its fellow east Idaho metro area.
According to Rupp, the trust has had to turn away offers for commercial development because of the lack of access to the land, costing the area jobs in the thousands.
The trust has made five separate attempts to settle the dispute with the city and developers. Town Center JV has responded by saying that the partners will discuss the offer, but no answer has been received, Rupp said. The city has yet to answer in any way, he added.
The unwillingness on the city of Pocatello’s part to settle has forced the family and its attorneys at Olsen Taggart to send the city a Notice of Tort Claim letter. The purpose of the letter is to request a settlement discussion with the city and avoid the legal process.
“They pushed us into a corner to make a decision, and like my attorney said, if Pocatello is wise, they would contact us and get some kind of agreement made.”
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