Interfaith Sanctuary got a thumbs down at Planning & Zoning Commission Monday.
After roughly twelve hours of public testimony spread over three public hearings, commissioners voted 5-1 to deny the project. Commissioner Meredith Stead cast the only vote against the motion to deny.
Although they acknowledged the importance of Interfaith Sanctuary’s work in the community, the commissioners decided no amount of conditions could keep it from impacting the neighborhood.
Commissioner John Mooney said Interfaith Sanctuary had shown an incredible commitment to getting their project completed and expanding its shelter programming, but he was also impressed with the Veterans Park Neighborhood Association’s research into the issue and their concerns with how it could impact them. He hopes the project can be altered in some way or Interfaith Sanctuary can accept further regulations from the city to make the project viable.
“I’d really like to defer to the experts and figure this out, and I regret that is going to put people on the street a bit longer and won’t solve the problem,” Mooney said. “The applicant has been very accommodating so far, and I think they would support conditions to make this work.”
Stead told fellow commissioners she hadn’t yet given up on the idea that the right set of conditions could keep the shelter from impacting the neighborhood.
This is the latest chapter in a nearly year-long fight over the proposed shelter move, which began with Interfaith Sanctuary’s announcement of the project in January of last year. It then escalated into several tense neighborhood meetings, changes to scale down the proposal, and a city-ordered pause for a task force.
After Monday’s denial, Interfaith Sanctuary can choose to appeal the decision to Boise City Council for another vote. If the project is appealed, any decision by Boise City Council could then be taken to Fourth District Court for judicial review.
Neighborhood safety remained a big question
A lot of the hesitation from the commission came from questions around security.
Several commissioners referenced a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design study completed for the area around 17th Street near the current Interfaith Sanctuary in 2020. This study, which was prepared by the Boise Police Department, was conducted after several meetings between area developers and the city in recent years.
The study noted high call volumes for fire and police personnel for “quality of life issues,” parking violations from members of the homeless community living in RVs and other vehicles, low lighting, and other deterioration in the area.
During the discussion, Stead said it would be difficult for the commission to make assumptions that these same conditions would crop up at the State Street location for various reasons. She noted the difference in programming at the shelter, as well as the fact that the area examined in the CPTED study included Corpus Christi House day shelter, where the unhoused community spends time, and Cooper Court alley.
She said it’s difficult for the commission to predict the future impacts from that report.
“That’s tricky to do right now because it’s a different location without other shelter homes nearby that won’t be sharing the same space,” Stead said. “It’s really hard to say this (impact) or what have you is a product of Interfaith Sanctuary because it might have been this (group of people), or it might have been this (group of people).”
‘I couldn’t do it’
Commissioner Milt Gillespie said he lost sleep for weeks trying to puzzle out all of the different factors at play in the decision.
For a while, he thought a combination of conditions including capping the shelter’s occupancy at 205 and blocking any overflow, requiring guests to be inside and quiet by 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m., requiring a yearly meeting with the neighborhood to assess progress and compliance with the rules and requiring a security plan must be approved by Boise’s Planning Director before occupancy could work. He also thought maybe a required lengthy annual report with data and other information on compliance could help the city evaluate the shelter’s performance would make sense.
But, he finally concluded that the city doesn’t have the expertise to properly evaluate a homeless shelter’s security and performance. Plus, if they revoke the permit after a few years because of potential issues, it would cripple Interfaith Sanctuary’s finances after raising funds to revamp the former Salvation Army warehouse.
“I tried my best to condition this to eliminate the adverse impact(s on the neighborhood), but I couldn’t do it,” Gillespie said. “I would like to hear anyone’s best shot.”