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Interfaith Sanctuary appeal: Permit denial was 'abuse of discretion' by Boise Planning and Zoning commissioners

The Planning and Zoning Commission in January voted against plans for a shelter on West State Street. Interfaith's lawyer calls the decision 'arbitrary' and illegal.

BOISE, Idaho — The Boise Planning and Zoning Commission's decision to deny a permit for a new Interfaith Sanctuary location on West State Street relied on speculation about the possible impact of a shelter, and failed to base the denial on "substantial competent evidence," according to an appeal submitted to the City of Boise on Thursday.

Interfaith Sanctuary is asking the Boise City Council to overturn the commission's Jan. 3 decision, which was a 5-1 vote for denial.

In a letter outlining the lengthy appeal, attorney Geoffrey Wardle said city staff had recommended approval of the conditional use permit for a 205-bed shelter based on written comment received from the Boise police and fire departments, "which reviewed the application and provided clear direction as to what conditions of approval would be necessary to mitigate the potential impacts of the proposed use."

A number of people who live in the Collister and Veterans Park neighborhoods, located near the proposed shelter site, said allowing Interfaith Sanctuary to open in the former Salvation Army building on State Street would overburden emergency services, result in increased crime, drugs and litter, and reduce their property values.

At the Jan. 3 meeting, Planning and Zoning commission member Milt Gillespie said, "I don't think the conditions in the current permit would mitigate (adverse effects) because we don't really have any specific idea on how they would be mitigated."

Gillespie joined four other commissioners in voting to deny the permit. Meredith Stead cast the lone "no" vote.

"The commission received thousands of pages of comments and hours of live testimony on the application, but very little of it qualifies as 'substantial and competent evidence,' and instead was swayed by lay complaints, thus elevating inapplicable, nonexpert information above the expertise of BPD and BFD," Wardle wrote in the appeal brief.

The proposed shelter site, two acres at 4306 W. State Street, is located in what are currently single-family residential and general commercial with design review zones.

Wardle wrote that shelter homes are "expressly" allowed in the commercial zone with a conditional use permit.

"The reasons given by the commission for its denial relate to the perceived impact the proposed facility could have on the safety and security of the 'neighborhood,'" Wardle wrote. "However, the commission misapplied the relevant standards and failed to base its denial on substantial competent evidence. As such, the commission’s decision was: (a) arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion; (b) not supported by substantial evidence, and (c) made in violation of various principles of constitutional, state, and city law."

The Boise City Council will consider the appeal in a future meeting. The hearing had not been scheduled as of Friday.

The entire appeal document can be viewed by clicking on the window below:

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