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P&Z panel hears from Interfaith, neighbors, city on shelter proposal but decision on hold

It will be another three weeks before the Boise Planning & Zoning Commission could take a vote on whether or not Interfaith Sanctuary will find a new home outside of downtown Boise.  

On Monday night, Interfaith Sanctuary’s legal counsel, architect, and executive director Jodi Peterson-Stigers made their case to the commission on why they should receive a conditional use permit to build a 205-bed shelter on State Street. The commission was slated to hold a public hearing and make a decision this week, but after four hours of testimony and questions from commissioners, they deferred the decision until the commission’s next meeting in December. 

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Commissioners will begin hearing from members of the public on the proposal at 4 p.m. on December 6. More than 100 people came out to testify Monday night, which would have taken an estimated five hours to hear. It is City of Boise policy to not start new business after 10 p.m. to avoid late-night deliberations. 

Bigger building, more private spaces for guests

This hearing was the first of likely several meetings on the proposal to move Interfaith Sanctuary’s operations out of a cramped warehouse on River Street to the former Salvation Army building in the Veteran’s Park neighborhood. Advocates for the project and shelter staff say the design, which includes separate rooms, a day shelter where guests can stay during the day, and other programming, will accommodate the growing need and provide a healthier environment. 

Interfaith Sanctuary Executive Director Jodi-Peterson Stigers told the commission that this shelter would be a significant improvement over the current River Street facility, which is primarily composed of rooms full of bunk beds for guests to sleep in. Because of the lack of room, guests must leave the shelter each morning. 

She said moving to State Street will allow the guests at Interfaith Sanctuary to stay inside during the day to access programming or not be forced to loiter on the street. Peterson-Stigers said it would also decrease the pressure on the small Corpus Christi House Day Shelter, also on River Street, by reducing the number of people in the homeless community looking for services. 

“This will help us increase the quality of care for people who do want to be in shelter,” she said. 

Neighbors push for more restrictions, half occupancy

Nearby neighbors who testified don’t see it this way. The three nearby neighborhood associations, Veterans Park, Sunset, and Collister, all testified against the project on Monday night, raising concerns that it would bring down property values, increase crime, and claimed the building was not designed in a way that would help the homeless community. 

Veterans Park Neighborhood Association Vice President Katy Decker showed several slides of emergency shelters in peer cities like Reno, Lincoln, and Spokane and the distance between those shelters and residential housing. She said Interfaith Sanctuary’s project is far too close to a residential neighborhood. She argued that it did not provide enough space per resident, which would lead to conflicts on the property that could spill out into the neighborhood. 

Rendering of a bike shelter area. Via Erstad Architects

“The evidence on record simply does not support a factual finding that the project as proposed will not impact the surrounding area,” Decker said. 

During the lengthy question and answer portion, Commissioner Milt Gillispie asked Decker if she had any conditions she would propose on the project. Decker suggested dropping the bed count from 205 to 100, although she was unsure if she could even support that many people near a residential neighborhood. Interfaith Sanctuary’s current facility on River Street houses 164 people in a smaller space than the 30,000 square-foot Salvation Army property. 

Some of Decker’s other suggestions included a rule banning donations from being dropped off at shelter property, a requirement that anyone who is asked to leave the shelter after hours for violating behavior rules cannot refuse transportation to another shelter and walk into the nearby neighborhood to sleep and relocating the entrances to the building. 

City’s thumbs-up recommendation, with conditions

City staff acknowledged the complexities of the proposal but ultimately recommended P&Z approve the project.

Deputy Director for Current Planning Cody Riddle told commissioners at the beginning of the meeting that the use could cause impacts to the neighborhood, but after evaluation, the city believes with its list of proposed conditions, it would be appropriate for the area.

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These conditions include requirements for an eight-foot fence around the permitter of the property, upgrades to the bus shelter in front of the building, a requirement that only licensed and insured vehicles can park on the property, and outside activity must cease after 9 p.m. 

Interfaith Sanctuary Boise
The former Salvation Army building on State Street. Emergency shelter Interfaith Sanctuary is considering purchasing it for an expanded shelter. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee told commissioners his agency remains neutral on the project, but he said Interfaith Sanctuary’s programming, commitment to a Good Neighbor Agreement, and plans for a quarterly crime assessment for the area. However, he stressed multiple times how important it is for Interfaith to stay in regular communication with BPD. 

“In my experience, shelters that have good protocols in place, stick to strong plans, set expectations with clients and guests, interact with the community and the police department, is generally a recipe to mitigate any impacts,” Lee said. 

Fire Chief Mark Niemeyer had similar remarks about the project. Interfaith Sanctuary is currently a hotspot for calls for police and emergency services response, but Niemeyer said the shelter moving wouldn’t result in more calls, just a shift in who was answering them. 

The shelter is currently served by Fire Station 5, the busiest station in the city, with the resources to answer nearby calls 81% of the time. If Interfaith Sanctuary moves, the calls would be answered by the less busy Fire Station 9, which has a reliability rate of 86%. 

Niemeyer said he was “very comfortable” that the department could handle the calls at the other station. 

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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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