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After 14 hours of hearings, no vote on Interfaith shelter until next year; Other projects delayed

Interfaith Sanctuary
Posted at 4:09 PM, Dec 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-14 18:09:05-05

This article was originally published by Margaret Carmel in BoiseDev.

People hoping to know the fate of the Interfaith Sanctuary proposal on State St. will not get a vote from the Planning and Zoning Commission for Christmas.

On Monday, Boise’s Planning & Zoning Commission took up the issue of emergency shelter Interfaith Sanctuary’s proposal to relocate to the former Salvation Army warehouse on State Street for the third time. After over sixty more residents testified on the project and commissioners logged a total of four hours of questions and ten hours of testimony, they unanimously voted to begin deliberating the project at its next meeting on January 3.

It is city policy to defer new business to the next meeting when meetings stretch past 10 p.m.Mayor Lauren McLean instituted this policy after an evening with multiple hearings stretched past 2 a.m. in early 2020.

Commissioners ready to start fresh for deliberation

Commissioner Jennifer Mohr said deferring the project would enable the commission to dig deep into the proposal and talk out the decision for several hours.

“There is a lot here and it’s a huge record and there’s a lot to discuss and a lot to unpack and a lot to be sure we get it right, or as right as right we possibly can,” Mohr said. “I think having as much time as we possibly can is my personal preference.”

Interfaith Sanctuary’s proposal is one of the most emotionally charged, voluminous records Boise’s planning staff and P&Z commissioners have had to review in recent memory. On top of the hours of testimony, there is also an over 1,000-page record of written testimony and other information from stakeholders to factor into their decision.

No matter which way the commission votes, the project will likely be appealed to Boise City Council for more hearings. It could also be brought before a judge for judicial review.

To gather more information, or not?

The Planning & Zoning Commission prepares to hear the Interfaith Sanctuary proposal earlier this month. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

The big decision P&Z made this week was whether or not it should defer its decision until Interfaith Sanctuary provides a detailed security and mitigation plan for commissioners to consider.

At last week’s six-hour marathon hearing, Commissioners Chris Danley and Chris Blanchard argued the commission should defer the vote until Interfaith Sanctuary submitted the extra materials. This did not move forward after a city attorney told the commissioners the addition of new information in the record would require a new public hearing and more testimony, further slowing the project.

This idea of deferring the project to wait for this extra information came up once again on Monday’s hearing. Danley and Commissioner Ashley Squryes argued for it, saying they felt uncomfortable voting on whether or not Interfaith Sanctuary could mitigate impacts on neighbors without seeing that extra information.

The other six commissioners voted down the idea, noting the commission should have enough to go on after the sheer volume of information shared with the commissioners and the year-long dispute over the project. Commissioner Milt Gillispie said it’s up to Interfaith Sanctuary to provide the information to show they meet the conditions of approval for a conditional use permit.

“I don’t think it’s the city’s job to coach or provide the applicant for a roadmap for getting a permit approved,” Gillispie. “They’ve submitted their permit and had plenty of time to work on it. It is what it is.”

A domino effect

The slow process to vote on this project is not without consequences.

At the conclusion of the meeting when commissioners voted to punt a vote until January 3, another applicant who had been patiently waiting for his project to be heard for four hours asked if his project could have a vote. He was turned down because city code prevents new business to begin after 10 p.m. and the commission had not concluded the matter of Interfaith Sanctuary.

This threw a wrench in his plans to have purchased the building he hoped to earn approval for by the end of the year after receiving a green light.

Several other applications were also deferred to January 3, but depending on how long the commission takes to come to a decision on Interfaith Sanctuary they could be pushed back further. The Planning & Zoning Commission traditionally meets twice per month. The members are volunteers.

Commission Chair Meredith Stead said while she recognizes the importance of a thorough hearing and deliberation on the Interfaith Sanctuary project, she was concerned about the cascading impact on other projects in the queue.

“I wish we could have gotten through this process more quickly for the city’s sake and for the applicant’s sake. I know we have more applicants piling up in the queue and I apologize to them, but this is a (significant project). I have been on the commission for five years and I have never seen this robust participation and that’s important and ultimately that’s what we’re here for to facilitate that process.”