Boise City Council approves Interfaith Sanctuary’s appeal, with many conditions

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Posted at 11:11 AM, Apr 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-26 21:07:26-04

This article was originally published by Margaret Carmel in BoiseDev.

It took over twenty hours of deliberation, questions and public testimony, but Interfaith Sanctuary got the green light to move to State Street.

On Monday night, Boise City Council voted 4-2, with City Council Members Luci Willits and Patrick Bageant opposing, to uphold Interfaith Sanctuary’s appeal and allow it to relocate to the former Salvation Army warehouse in the Veterans Park neighborhood. To make it happen, council members tacked on 30 conditions to the project related to safety, shelter operations and capped the number of beds at 205 throughout the entirety of the year.

This vote is the latest chapter in a year and a half long fight between supporters of Interfaith’s proposed expansion and the nearby neighbors’ fierce opposition to the project. Proponents of the shelter said creating more beds, building a new facility with more private space and all-day programming would improve outcomes and mitigate risks for the community. But, neighbors argued the shelter would draw crime to the area, impact their property values, and further concentrate low-income residents in the area already home to other service providers.

The decision could also be appealed by the Veterans Park Neighborhood Association to the Fourth District Court for judicial review. It will also require Design Review approval from the city, but this will be administrative.

‘This is our job’

The crowd of citizens and others listening during testimony at the Interfaith Sanctuary hearing in Boise last week. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

Monday’s seven-hour meeting to hear final arguments and for council members to deliberate was a roller coaster ride.

Over the course of the lengthy meeting, council members wrestled with the project. They discussed if it would have an adverse impact on the neighborhood, place an undue burden on public services, how it fit with the city’s comprehensive plan and the dire need to provide housing to Boiseans. At times some council members appeared to be leaning one way, only to swing back in the other direction.

But, what ultimately convinced all but Willits and Bageant was a set of 30 new conditions proposed by Boise’s Department of Housing and Community Development. These new requirements include a safe syringe disposal, a requirement for guests removed from the shelter to be transported to another shelter or elsewhere by Boise Police officers and monthly meetings with neighbors to address complaints.

City Council President Pro Tem Holli Woodings said every project, no matter what type, has an impact, including a homeless shelter. She said with the conditions the city put together and the work of city staff the project can work and will provide shelter to those who need it.

“At the end of the day, this is our job,” Woodings said. “People experiencing homelessness are also Boise residents. Our work is not just spent on people who live in apartments or who live in houses. Our job is for all Boise residents.”

City Council President Elaine Clegg, who made the motion to uphold the appeal, said she came into the meeting not expecting to vote for the project. But, the proposed conditions and discussion changed her mind, albeit with reservations.

“I am not totally comfortable with this decision,” she said, after calling on Interfaith to rise to the city’s high standards and pull off the project. “I understand my colleagues who can’t vote yes on it because it is going to require all of us to live up to the best we can be as humanity.”

Why the no votes?

Members of the council and Mayor McLean listen to testimony during Monday’s portion of the hearing. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

Bageant and Willits were not convinced.

Willits said while the project with the conditions was better than it was without them and operations for the shelter are more clearly defined, she still thought it was too many sideboards. After puzzling over the project for months, Willits said she couldn’t find a way to problem solve it that would guarantee it wouldn’t have adverse impacts on the neighborhood.

“I think this is so much better than it was,” Willits said. “I appreciate our staff. They’ve been here as long as we have and they want to do what they can to make it work, but there are 30 conditions on this now. That seems like a lot to me.”

This was the same problem Bageant had. He noted several concerns with the project throughout the evening, including its proximity to other shelters, impacts to Boise Police operations and the way it would have to limit alcohol consumption in Willow Lane Athletic Complex used for Parks and Recreation softball leagues and other activities next door.

He also wasn’t convinced that shelter practices might change over time, leaving the city stuck with an obsolete facility.

“The theory as I understand it is if the understanding of running a facility is correct, it will have no problems therefore there will not be an adverse impact,” he said. “I don’t have enough certainty to believe that’s the case that in 5 years emerging practices will be best practices.”