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No decision reached on proposed Interfaith Sanctuary site

After public testimony went late into the night Monday, the Planning and Zoning Commission opted to return Jan. 3 for a vote.

BOISE, Idaho — The hotly-contentious decision on whether the Interfaith Sanctuary will move to a new, larger site on State Street was pushed back again Monday evening. 

After hours of public testimony that ran late into the night, members of the Planning and Zoning Commission voted to postpone their decision until their next meeting on Jan. 3. 

Interfaith Sanctuary is asking for a conditional-use permit in order to use the former Salvation Army building on West State Street for a large low-barrier homeless shelter.

The proposed 205-bed shelter would be open 24 hours a day, and would partner with local housing agencies to help shelter residents get into permanent housing. The former thrift store would be upgraded to include separate housing for families as well as a computer lab, library, and training kitchen.

The plan also calls for adding parking on-site, as well as landscape improvements and gardens on the property north of the building.

Interfaith officials have argued that the Treasure Valley's skyrocketing rents and comparatively low wages are sending more people slipping into homelessness daily, especially as the area's population continues to grow. Supporters of the new site say that it will help lift residents out of crisis and that the community has an obligation to help those struggling to find a place to live.

Those opposed to the move, including a number of residents who live near the proposed State Street address, counter that that the move would overburden emergency services, lower their property values, and bring crime, drugs and litter into their neighborhood. 

Charlene Pickett, who lives near the site, said she would no longer feel safe letting her teenage children walk to the bus stop or park if the shelter moves in. 

"There will be a large number of unknown, temporary, and transient guests that are typically not in our neighborhood, which I believe affects the character and feeling of safety in our park and in our neighborhood," she said.

Credit: Interfaith Sanctuary
Renderings obtained by KTVB show the proposed plan for Interfaith Sanctuary's new site on State Street.

Kandi Schultz, who lives behind the proposed building, also expressed concerns about the changes the new shelter would bring. 

"I would like to think that our surrounding neighborhood will never look like the several blocks that surround the current IFS location on River Street, but if this passes it is inevitable that our neighborhood will never be the same," she said. 

Another speaker, Darla Mallory, argued that the shelter would imperil police officers responding to issues at the site. 

"Just saying 'safe and secure' does not make it so. Now is not the time to add more burden to our fellow citizens who serve as first responders," she said. "This application puts them at even higher risk while also putting the whole city at higher risk." 

Denise Caruzzi, president of the Boise/Ada County Homeless Coalition, urged commissioners to approve the permit.  

"If not here, where?" she asked. "Yes, we need more permanent housing and we need more shelter space until more permanent housing can be addressed. But today's needs are critical."

Another speaker who lives near the State Street address argued that the shelter's residents hanging out outside the building would ruin "the quiet enjoyment of my home."

"A fence is not enough to block the daily noise from 250+ people congregating each day and evening before curfew," said Rhonda Larson-Cockell. "We will hear guests' conversations and amplified sound any time we use the back of our property or anytime I am in my living room, kitchen, and master bedroom, because it is less than eight feet away."

More than 60 people in total testified before Planning and Zoning voted to end the meeting for the night. The commissioners said they wanted time to review their notes, examine the application, and consider the points members of the public had raised before making their final vote. 

If commissioners approve the site at the January meeting, those in opposition will have ten days to file an appeal. That appeal would then be taken up by the Boise City Council.

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