Meridian was the 10th-fastest growing city in the nation in 2017, and the fastest in the state of Idaho. For those who live, work and play in this city of 106,000, the evolution has made commutes longer, land pricier, schools fuller and lines longer. However, Meridian also now has more industries, more living wage jobs, better shopping, diverse school choice and a magnificent park system. Farmlands are being replaced with subdivisions and apartments. Industries are expanding into professional services, health sciences
Times are changing. No longer do folks have to drive to Boise for fine dining, back-to-school shopping, or a night on the town. In fact, 93 percent of residents believe the city exceeds their expectations as a place to raise a family, according to a 2017 city survey.
Meridian was incorporated in 1893 and was primarily a community of dairy farmers and fruit growers. One hundred years later, the community’s real growth began: more than tripling in 10 years to 36,000 residents in 2000, and then nearly doubling to 76,000 in 2010. The size of the city tripled from an area of 10.6 square miles in 1995 to 33.8 square miles in 2018. The Meridian labor market is outpacing other Treasure Valley cities with a 34 percent increase between 2013 and 2018. And Idaho State University opened the state’s first medical school, the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine, in Meridian last year.
Despite all these changes, Meridian Mayor Tammy de Weerd, who is stepping down at the end of her term in December, says the culture of Meridian remains the same. She just began her 20th year as a Meridian elected official, having been both an observer and instrument of change during the city’s robust growth. “We tend to have a higher educated demographic, intact families, a very family centered and youth-focused community,” she said in a recent interview. “And it has been for as long as I’ve been involved.”
Perhaps, de Weerd said, the culture has even been strengthened with like-minded new residents who cherish and uphold these values. “Early on, our elected officials have always forecasted and built for the future,” she said. “That has allowed us to grow gracefully. Our sewer treatment plan, our water planning, our utilities have always been ahead of the game. As has our planning for maintaining our public safety, our police and fire. That’s always been a top priority for the community, and it continues to be today.”
That’s not to say Meridian is without pain points; road infrastructure and housing stock are two major areas where residents feel the pinch.
With roads bridging Canyon County residents to eastern communities, Meridian is a gateway and a destination in its own right.
“It’s not just our growth that impacts Meridian,” de Weerd said. “It’s the entire Valley’s growth.”
Anyone traveling eastward on a weekday morning or westward on a weekday evening has felt the crunch on I-84. In 2017, Idaho Transportation Department data showed the annual average daily traffic on the portion of freeway between Meridian Road and Eagle Road was 123,000 cars: 114,900 passenger vehicles and 8,100 commercial vehicles.
Many commuters choose Meridian arterial streets instead, especially if they live farther from the freeway, like eastbound commuters hailing from the northwest communities of Star and Middleton. One northern passage way is the heavily traveled Chinden Boulevard, an arterial street through Caldwell, Meridian, Boise and Garden City, eventually providing access onto I-84 into downtown Boise.
According to Ada County Highway District data, cars traveling east through the Chinden-Cloverdale intersection on a given Wednesday in April 2018 totaled 1,492 vehicles at the morning peak and 1,458 vehicles traveling westbound at the evening peak. Over a 24-hour period that day, the intersection saw over 30,000 vehicles traveling in both directions.
Mayor de Weerd established a Chinden Boulevard task force in 2015 to engage with legislative and governmental transportation authorities on needed improvements.
ITD plans to expand Chinden to six lanes from the interstate intersection in Caldwell to the Eagle Road intersection in Meridian over the next six years.
“[We have] new residents and new perspectives and we want to involve them in the vision for what Meridian [looks like] in the next 5-10 years.”
Meridian Mayor Tammy de Weerd
But de Weerd’s focus is larger than that; it is on improved traffic times and safer commutes. She wants to bring jobs closer to where people live. “Rather than going through us, they go to us,” de Weerd said. “People then can live closer to where they work and spend more time with their families than in their cars. We’re starting to collect them; with the efforts and with our central location, we are finding that employers have a preference to locate or relocate in Meridian because they are central to their workforce, and I think Nampa finds the same thing, too.”
Although most folks would like to live near their work, it’s a challenge for many as housing prices rise and inventory continues to shrink.
Housing inventory in Ada County steadily dropped for 51 consecutive months up to December 2018, according to a January 2019 market report by the Boise Regional Realtors Association. Record-breaking inventory lows came with record-breaking housing price increases. It’s a seller’s market and people are increasingly being priced out of home ownership countywide.
Lack of existing homes has many Ada County residents building new homes, instead.
“While new home sales were up 22.4 percent in 2018 compared to 2017, the number of existing/resale home sales over the same period was down 4.1 percent,” according to the BRR report.
In Meridian specifically, the number of closed home sales went down, but the average price went up significantly year over year. There were 222 closed sales in Meridian in 2018, which is an 11.9 percent decrease from 2017. However, the median price of homes sold in 2018 was more than $350,000, a 21.6 percent increase from the median sales price in 2017. This mirrors the county trend: a limited market driving prices upwards.
It’s been about 15 years of intense housing development, according to Meridian Planning Division Manager Caleb Hood. “We’re seeing a trend here that’s hard to deny,” Hood said. “We’re adding 1,200 to 1,600 units per year, regularly.”
There were well over 30,000 single-family homes, and approximately
5,000 multi-family dwellings, in Meridian at the end of 2018, according to Hood’s data.
The city is in the middle of updating its Comprehensive Plan, a citizen-guided steering document. Although the plan forecasts 20 years out and the last Comp Plan update was in 2012, the changes in the ensuing six years are massive enough to prompt a relook, Mayor de Weerd said. The last land use plan was adopted in 2002, she said, when Meridian only had a fraction of its current population.
“[We have] new residents and new perspectives and we want to involve them in the vision for what Meridian [looks like] in the next 5-10 years,” de Weerd said. “Our citizens have asked that we evolve as markets and trends evolve, stay connected and connect. We connect sidewalks, we connect pathways and we connect people as well.”
Caleb Hood said the feedback city officials solicited from citizens throughout 2018 will be condensed into a vision for the updated plan. Meridian’s rapid urbanization was a contentious topic for many, he said, and it’s the city’s challenge to maintain Meridian’s high quality of life in spite of the changes. The Comp Plan will emphasize careful, strategic development, he said.
“Growth is one thing, but you need to provide the services and the level of services that people expect,” Hood said.