Thousands of Idaho acres once earmarked for development revert to agriculture

Idaho StatesmanOctober 7, 2011 

Milan Gould’s been farming in the Middleton area since 1959.

This year, rows of corn stretch from his property southeast of Bent Lane and Idaho 44 in Star across 80 acres of the East Canyon subdivision once approved for about 200 homes and a park.

A lender ended up with the subdivision after the developer, Corinthian Homes, defaulted on its loans, said Star Mayor Nate Mitchell.

Gould leases the land from the lender.

“It keeps the weeds down. It keeps the land in production. It gives them a tax break,” Gould said. “It benefits all of us and keeps us in business.”

During the boom years that drove up Valley land and home prices, demand for new homes seemed endless. From about 2005 to 2007, many farmers sold out for cash, or committed portions of their land to developers. Plans for subdivisions that would gobble up farmland covered the Treasure Valley — from the Boise Foothills in Eagle to the outskirts of Kuna, and from Owyhee County beyond the Snake River across Canyon County.

But when the housing bubble burst in 2008, home buyers and construction loans faded. Deals fell apart. Developers and speculators found they had purchased too much property at inflated prices. As values dropped, many had more money invested in the properties than they could sell them for.

“After the shake-out, many of those properties (were short sales) or went to banks that have sold or are trying to sell them,” said John Starr, a land broker with Colliers International in Boise.

Other scenarios played out, as well, especially after farm income and prices for commodities like corn and wheat rose, said Idaho Rep. Pat Takasugi, a farmer in Wilder who was once Idaho’s agriculture director.

Farmers continued to work the acreages they owned in fizzled subdivisions, he said. They also sought out owners of other parcels, whether investors or banks, to buy or lease land to plant crops.

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