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Historic North End church approved for children’s arts center and event venue

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City Council Tuesday with Margaret Carmel

A historic North End church could soon spring back to life as a children’s dance center and limited event venue, but some neighbors expressed concerns.

Boise City Council held a lengthy hearing Tuesday evening on two appeals from residents. The group hoped to block the conversion of an early 1900s-era church at the corner of 14th and Eastman streets into a center for the Treasure Valley Institute for Children’s Arts. Some neighbors said their opposition didn’t stem from the organization itself or its mission. But they said the low number of parking spots on the site and the possibility of weddings and other events on the site raised concerns.

After hearing testimony, city council members were unmoved by arguments from neighbors who said the Planning and Zoning Commission made an error after they approved the project with conditions earlier this year. 

City Council President Elaine Clegg, a resident of the North End, says she understands the concern with parking, but one of the strengths of the area is the walkability and diversity of uses instead of only homes without any businesses or churches. 

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“My particular part of the neighborhood is also pretty heavily parked, but more so than many other places and so I am sympathetic to that argument, but at the same time we have all enjoyed the fact that we have a neighborhood where we have more than single family homes and nothing else,” Clegg said. “Part of the enjoyment we get is that mix of uses.”

Over a decade in the making

The vote gives a conditional use permit for the historic Immanuel M.E. Church to operate as a school and a church. When TriCA submitted its application, it considered partnering with North End Collective Church so that group could meet in the building. That group backed out, and instead started meeting in another space.

TriCA made a similar application, without the church section, in 2009. The earlier conditional use permit expired before the project got underway.

Jon Swarthout, founder of the nonprofit TriCA, said the group still hoped for a permit to operate a church. That way they could move forward if another group approached them without a new permitting process. He also defended his request to have the renovated church used for social events, like weddings, a taping for Treefort Music Festival, and a quilt art show to help raise funds for his organization. 

“I would feel selfish if I kept the space all to myself,” he said, about the church permit and event center proposal. 

The historic building served as a Methodist Church until the 1980s, when the congregation started to shrink and sold the building to a developer for apartments, according to a page on the North End Neighborhood Association website. Several neighbors in the area said prior to TriCA’s purchase of the building, it looked like an eyesore and people used it as a “meth house,” but the appearance improved significantly due to Swarthout’s work. 

Concerns about events, safety

The possibility of events in the space sparked the majority of neighborhood opposition. Those in opposition accused Swarthout of trying to open a dance hall or concert venue with no parking in the North End, which could result in noise, late parties, danger to bicyclists and pedestrians, and other disruptions. 

“We’re not talking about dance recitals and church dinners,” Karena Youtz, representing one of the appellants 14th Street Neighbors, said. “We’re talking about any event that will make the applicant money.”

Boise’s Deputy Director of Current Planning Cody Riddle said city staff admitted competing the renovation of the building would result in more traffic to the area, but to mitigate some of the impacts several conditions were placed on the building. 

Once complete, the building can host up to 20 events per year, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. If the building hosts a church congregation, a maximum of 180 attendees can attend for two services at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. without an off-site parking requirement. 

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Margaret Carmel
Margaret is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at margaret@boisedev.com or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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