We also have a lot of folks that move to
Idaho from other communities, especially
Southern California. For many of them it’s,
“I moved to get away from that. I don’t want
anything happening here that reminds me
Q: You mentioned before that you talk on a
lot of panels.
A: Yes. Typically [on these panels] we’ll be
talking about planning and zoning—either
projects or new and novel techniques that
are used by planners and municipalities.
Parking regulations. New sustainable cities.
Q: Would you say you’re an
A: Yes. We try to join land use and
environmental issues. It’s tied together.
[Often] environmental lawyers deal with
regulatory issues like how to put up a
wastewater treatment plant. I don’t deal
with those kind of regulations, but I do
deal with environmental issues as they get
Our firm tends to represent land owners
and developers—we also occasionally
represent municipalities—and my clients are
dealing with large-scale development. So we
often deal with habitat mitigation plans.
Q: What does habitat mitigation involve?
A: Typically habitat mitigation is: If you’re
in a developing area and there might be an
endangered species in the area. Currently,
we don’t have a lot of endangered animal
species but we do have some endangered
plants, so what we may do is create plant
A: I’ll be one of a team. For instance, right
now I’m working on one of the largest
mixed-use developments in Idaho. It’s a
development called Spring Valley in the
foothills near Boise. It’s about 10,000
acres. It's mixed use: it’s residential, it’s
commercial, it’s 60 percent open space.
[On the team] there’s me, but there’s
also the developer, civil engineers,
environmental engineers, wastewater
engineers and the land planners. We also
work with the municipalities.
Q: How does the issue of sprawl affect
A: Well, I originally practiced in Chicago.
Chicago is huge but it’s also densely
developed. People don’t think of Chicago per
se as being an example of sprawl, [but it is].
The Boise metro area has grown quite a
bit—I’ve been here since ‘89 and it has grown
a lot. That growth for many people has been
viewed as sprawl.
We’re a little bipolar [in Idaho], in the
sense that it’s still a pretty rural state. Large
vehicles are the norm. Large lots. I think
the planners had a difficult time trying to
convince people and developers to become
more sustainable by having smaller lots, less
pipe in the ground, because people like their
wide open spaces.
It’s hard. The community is in transition.
We have definitely gone through some
growing pains as a community over the
last 25 years. Personally, I think it’s all
good because I think it’s allowed us to
bring over more culture. [Boise is] a great
cultural venue. It’s a great sporting venue.
Particularly outdoor sports.
On the other hand, if you’re doing
anything at the edge of the community,
many people would consider it to be
sprawl. I’m working on one of the largest
developments in the state. It’s in the
city of Eagle, which is right next door to
Boise. It’s a well-planned community. It’s
well-contained. A lot of open space but
smaller lots, more sustainable. But there’s
definitely some people who would think,
“Well, that’s sprawl.”
As a community, I think we’re trying to
do a lot with job creation and bringing in
businesses, partly because we’ve got an
ever-growing population and educated kids
that sometimes can’t find work here and
they move away. My daughter is an animator
and she has moved to Portland. I don’t think
she will be moving back.
Q: How did you end up in Boise?
A: Serendipity. I lived and practiced in
Chicago, but I had a friend in Idaho and we
used to come out here and go skiing. I came
out to visit, took a leave from my place in
Chicago and wound up staying. The West
was for me.
I started in a firm with about 30 attorneys
and then started my own firm in the early
'90s, along with my partner, Mike Spink.
Now there are five partners.
Before law school I got a master’s degree
in geography. So my background pretty
much has been in urban geography, social
geography. After law school, I worked for the
American Planning Association.
Q: Tell me about a typical day
A: A typical day will be fielding a lot of
This morning I was making sure that the
legal descriptions on a piece of property my
client is purchasing, to develop, that the
engineers had carved out the road rights-of-way so that it was clear what property we
And I was working with the public
works director and the city attorney on a
development agreement that basically lays
out the public utilities we’re going to be
building for the city.
Q: So you’re parsing the language, the
details of these developments?
A: Yes. We might identify the length of the
sewer pipe. It kind of goes from the sublime
to the ridiculous. We had an immigrant from
a Middle Eastern country that has asked us
to help him with a conditional use permit for
a Hookah bar because his goal is to share
Arab culture with his new home, which is, of
all places, Boise, Idaho.
Land use attorneys [also] have to do hearings
at night because the council of signing and
zoning is at night, and that’s so people that are
working can show up and speak.
The other thing I was doing today was
working on a location for a charter school.
We had an old, enclosed mall that never
worked for retail. The school is called Sage
International Charter School, and we just
found out this morning that we got the
permit. We just waited to see if anybody
would appeal it. Nobody did.
Q: So you’re repurposing wasted space.
A: Exactly. I think the best thing for me as
a practitioner is, I’ll drive down that street
and think, “OK, that school will be up and
running next year.”
Q: You can see the future.
A: Yes. The built environment.
This interview was edited and condensed.