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Boise Planning and Zoning discuss conditional use permit for Interfaith Sanctuary proposed new location

A final decision on the permit was not made during Monday's meeting but will be taken up again on Dec. 6.

BOISE, Idaho — The Boise Planning and Zoning Commission held a meeting Monday night to discuss whether Interfaith Sanctuary will be given a conditional use permit to operate a shelter on the site of the old Salvation Army on State Street.

This is the next step in a nearly year-long battle for Interfaith Sanctuary to be able to move its shelter from its current location on River Street to State Street.

The meeting went on late into Monday night and featured a heated debate from both Interfaith Sanctuary and neighbors from the Veterans Park Neighborhood Association.

Interfaith Sanctuary initially planned on submitting an application for a conditional use permit to the city of Boise in April but agreed to pause to process following a request from Boise Mayor Lauren McLean.

Because there was so much opposition to the proposed location, a Shelter Better task force was created by McLean was created to try to find the perfect location. However, after two months of meeting, the task force was unable to find an "available, affordable building that was zoned to be a shelter."

Both Boise Police and the Boise Fire Department said they were neutral on the issue, but both departments added that they would be capable of handling an increase in calls related to the shelter if it was on State Street. The Boise Public Library has thrown their support behind the proposed shelter move.

There was still quite a bit of opposition from neighbors, however.

Monday's meeting was about addressing any concerns from Boise Police about policing a homeless shelter in West Boise and addressing concerns from a group opposing the group. This group claims the shelter's rooms are not big enough to handle the number of homeless families who they believe will be there, calling the plan for the rooms "jail cell size."

The commission did not hear any public testimony due to the sheer volume of questions both to Interfaith Sanctuary and the opposing neighborhood association. A final decision on the permit was not made during Monday's meeting but will be taken up again on Dec. 6.

Peterson-Stigers said the shelter's current location, at 1620 W River Street in downtown Boise, is simply too small, especially given social distancing requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At about 30,000 square feet, the proposed spot on State Street is three times larger than Interfaith's current shelter and could serve more than 300 people each day. 

The project would include converting the former thrift store into overnight emergency housing with restrooms, showers, meeting rooms and offices.

A smaller, adjacent building, previously used by the Salvation Army as a food pantry, will be renovated into a commercial kitchen to provide meals and food service training. 

The plan also calls for upgrading the site to provide parking and landscape improvements along State Street, as well as the installation of gardens and other passive landscape improvements on the property north of the building.

The meeting will be live-streamed on the City of Boise's YouTube page.