Behind headlines heralding Boise's phenomenal growth of the past half-decade is a cautionary tale about a city that was careful about what it wished for, but got more than it expected.

Citizens frustrated with shortsighted public policy are striking out on their own. Financially strapped public officials are trying to cut the strings that limit their ability to respond.The result is growing pains and responses that could provide lessons in leadership, economic development, planning and property taxation for other Idaho cities that are, or hope someday to be, experiencing the same mixed blessings.

"Everybody is so hungry for growth," said Gary Lyman of the Boise Future Foundation. "But we learn by hindsight, and people don't really begin starting to question what it is they value until they see things slipping away."

Still, experts believe a precarious balancing act between growth and quality of life is probably the best Boise, or any other Idaho city, can hope for in dealing with what is emerging as one of the crises of the 1990s.

"I don't think anybody necessarily foresaw all the things that were going to happen," said Wayne Gibbs, Boise city planning director. "All the controversy is hectic and stressful, but that's the sign of a growing community. I'm not sure that what we're going through is unwelcome."

What the capital city is going through is one of the nation's biggest growth spurts. U.S. Census Bureau officials, already criticized for having undercounted the area, estimate Boise's population at more than 123,000 and Ada County's at 205,000.

Even the disputed figures put the county's growth rate at 18.5 percent since 1980, triple the growth statewide. Gibbs estimates Boise alone gained 24,000 to 25,000 residents since the mid-1980s.

That explosion has spread development to the west and southeast, with pricier subdivisions planned in the fragile Boise foothills. But the proposed Castle Rock development there faced stiff opposition from nearby residents and Indian groups before being approved by the Boise City Council. And neighbors' questions about potential traffic problems have delayed a decision on the Highlands Nines project.

Meanwhile, the Audubon Society and Wetlands Coalition have joined with residents in an effort to raise a trust fund to buy land from a developer who wants to build housing in a wildlife-rich wooded draw on Boise's north end. They want to establish the Hulls Gulch Nature Preserve.