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Developer hopes for improvements to area around Interfaith Sanctuary

The southwestern edge of downtown along the Boise River has been an underdeveloped commercial area for decades, but a local developer hopes to change that.

Derick O’Neill, and his company River Shore Development, is working on a plan to transform the area in and around the intersection of Shoreline Drive and Americana Boulevard and wants the City of Boise to improve the area first so it’s ready for development. Right now it’s mostly home to large surface parking lots, commercial properties and services for Ada County’s homeless community. 

River Shore is owned by the Rebholtz family, which also controls AgriBeef.

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O’Neill said there is no specific project in the works yet, but instead he’s collaborating with a range of property owners, local government officials, nonprofits and residents to prioritize “public improvements with the current and future redevelopment of the area.” The area falls under Capital City Development Corporation’s Shoreline Urban Renewal District, which was formed in 2019 and also includes the Lusk District near Boise State University. 

O’Neill is Boise’s former Planning & Development Services director and spoke highly in favor of the urban renewal district’s establishment at public hearings in late 2018. 

A recent Boise Police Department study of the area found high call volumes to first responders for “quality of life” issues, parking violations from people experiencing homelessness living out of vehicles, low lighting and other deterioration in the area.

O’Neill not involved in shelter move

In an email answering a series of questions, O’Neill said he’s had conversations with Interfaith Sanctuary and other nonprofits in the area about redevelopment in the district. He said his development group “stayed out of” Interfaith Sanctuary’s proposal to relocate to State Street, but does believe a bigger shelter is required. He did not say where it should be.

“We believe there is a significant public need for both organizations, and adding additional capacity/space is urgent, important and necessary,” he wrote in an email.

Interfaith Sanctuary’s bid to move to a more residential area raised objections from immediate neighbors when it was proposed in January. Interfaith Sanctuary Executive Director Jodi Peterson-Stigers said last month she is under contract to sell their current shelter on River Street, but she has not revealed who the prospective buyer is. O’Neill said he is not involved in the deal and does not know the identity of the buyer. 

BoiseDev has not been able to find any real estate records indicating a sale closed or who the buyer is.

City turns down idea of land swap

A mural outside of Interfaith Sanctuary’s emergency shelter downtown. Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

The topic of Interfaith Sanctuary potentially moving to State Street came up in a November 15 email obtained through a public records request between O’Neill and several City of Boise officials, including economic development director Sean Keithly, Boise Police Department’s operations support commander Alison Tate and director of community partnerships Shirley O’Neil (no relation). 

In the email, O’Neill mentioned a range of improvements the city could make to the general area in response to the crime prevention study conducted by BPD, including security cameras, more lighting and stricter parking enforcement. One of the topics he mentioned was the possibility of the City of Boise facilitating a land swap to obtain a property on State Street for Interfaith Sanctuary and Corpus Christi so the city would own the land and lease it to the nonprofits to help with the project’s cost. 

O’Neill said the email was a follow-up to a meeting he had with officials about the findings of the crime prevention study conducted in the area and he was not suggesting the swap. He said the city mentioned Interfaith Sanctuay’s desire to move to State Street, but the nonprofit might not have the funds to do it and asked if O’Neill had any ideas on how they could finance the project. 

“We did not make a proposal, just shared an idea,” O’Neill wrote in an email. “The city was clear they did not want to be involved in Interfaith’s potential relocation and or be a landlord.”

City of Boise spokesman Seth Ogilvie said nothing came of O’Neill’s idea for the land swap and he also does not know the identity of any prospective buyer of the existing Interfaith Sanctuary property. There were no other emails in BoiseDev’s public records request suggesting a conversation continued. 

“Derick O’Neill did suggest that and no one followed up on it and there were no further discussions on that action of moving Interfaith to State Street,” he said. “There was no direct assistance by any means.”

Interfaith Sanctuary Executive Director Jodi Peterson-Stigers said she had not heard anything about O’Neill’s proposal for a land swap with the City of Boise and asked for more details.

“I know Derick, but I didn’t know anything about that,” she said, laughing. “Ha! That is interesting.”

How much crime occurs near the shelter?

The crime study of the area found the several blocks surrounding Interfaith Sanctuary had some of the city’s highest call volumes, but the majority of officers were dispatched to the area for welfare checks, a person causing a disturbance or trespassing instead of violent offenses.

BPD conducted the study of the Shoreline area, which includes the area around Interfaith Sanctuary, in August and September 2020. It analyzed calls to police, fire and paramedics in and around the area as well as how the built environment contributes or deters crime.

Ogilvie said the city is not working with O’Neill directly on his development project, but is working with him to address problems in the Shoreline area, like parking violations, lighting, and overall security in the area before it can be developed. 

“As you saw, (O’Neill) had certain concerns brought up in the Shoreline study and we’re actively looking into those things,” Ogilve said. “…He’s brought something to our attention and like a good responsive city government we’re trying to take those concerns seriously.”

Between 2014 and 2020, the number of calls for service in the entire city have fluctuated while calls in the area studied rose steadily from 1,849 in 2014 to 3,004 through the end of September 2020. Six percent of 4,793 calls between 2016 and 2020 were welfare checks, 3.86% for someone causing a disturbance, 3.8% for trespassing and 3.75% for illegal camping.

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There were also slightly lower percentages of calls during this time for open container violations, illegal parking and public initiated calls for a person sleeping in public on private property. Narcotics violations and calls from residents to check on an individual suspected of criminal activity were the least frequent issues with 2.43% and 2.35% of the calls respectively.

Illegal parking due to residents living in their cars and RVs on the street has become more of a problem in the area in the past year, according to the study. Residents often park in one spot for three days and then move to another spot in the same area, skirting any parking violations and possible removal.

Of crimes other than “quality of life” issues, there were 920 calls in the area from 2016 through 2020. The most common for narcotics or narcotics paraphernalia, which resulted in 596 calls during the period. The second most common was simple assault battery with 149 calls, which increased slightly nearly every year except 2020. This is the least serious form of assault and typically results in a minor injury and does not involve a weapon.

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Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel 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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