Opponents of a planned children's arts academy have appealed Boise's Historical Preservation Commission approval of major renovations to a historic North End church.
The Treasure Valley Institute for Children's Arts recently won approval to renovate the historic Immanuel Methodist Episcopal Church on 14th street, a dilapidated church which sits one block from Hyde Park. Going into the hearing, 79 of 80 e-mails sent to the commissioners approved of the project. At the meeting, nearly a dozen people testified, and three residents voiced concern about the project.
The commission unanimously decided to allow Trica to proceed with plans to remodel the old church as well as a 100-year-old house adjacent to the property. The house will be used for Trica facilities, including classrooms, studios and offices. Jon Swarthout, founder and artistic director of Trica, says this is a giant relief and Trica can begin working towards approval for a conditional use permit some time in August.
But days after the Commission approval, neighbors to the project appealed the decision. The Boise Planning and Zoning Commission will consider the conditional use permit on Sept. 14 and recommend to the City Council whether or not Trica should be allowed to operate a school in a residential zone. The City Council will have final say on the conditional use and on the appeal to the historical commission decision, likely in October.
Trica has already begun repairing and cleaning up the church. Due to neglect and shoddy remodels, the church—listed as one of the most endangered historic buildings in Boise—has lost much of its structural integrity. At one point, the building was used as a meth lab, which left chemical residue throughout. Swarthout described how Phase 1 of Trica's project is structural stabilization and remediation. Metal pillars are being placed to stabilize the walls of the building and hazardous materials are being cleaned out. Swarthout says that by the end of Phase 1, the church will be just a gutted shell, but it will be uncontaminated, sturdy and ready to convert back into a safe and functional building.
If and when the city approves Trica's conditional use permit, they will begin raising the $4 million dollars to fund Phase 2.
Phase 2 involves building the facilities, and renovating the house next door to the church. Trica hopes to come up with the money during the next three years, but Swarthout laments that "they picked the worst time in the history of the economy to do this."
"We're not big rich developers," he said. "We're community people trying to do this for the community." Swarthout is thankful for the many small and medium sized donations they have received, but admits that no large benefactors have jumped on board. Without that, it will be difficult to climb to the top of the $4 million plateau.
Although many Northenders approve of the project, some neighborhood residents don't. They filed an appeal, arguing that the Historic Preservation Committee's decision is not consistent with the zoning guidelines of the North End, particularly regarding a house next to the church that Trica also owns. Neighbor Karena Youtz explained that their goal is not to stop Trica from using the church but they should "leave the plot line there and leave the house a house." Youtz believes demolition of the house or the removal of any part of the structure violates the historic preservation of the residential neighborhood. She also fears a scenario where Trica is unable to come up with funding for its project, and with the properties adjoined, they could be sold in the future and developed into a commercial use or apartment complex.
"We are not asking that Trica not use the church, but for its impact to be minimized by not absorbing a residence through removal of a lot line to turn a residence into surface parking..." wrote Youtz on behalf of other near-neighbors and the ad hoc Save 14th Street group that formed to oppose Trica's plans. "We will not be starting a public campaign until we know whether Trica intends to demolish the house, remove the property line and change the house's use. If that is the case, we will be unable to continue to work with them."
Swarthout explained that in his many meetings with the residents of the neighborhood, some wanted Trica to tear down the adjacent house and replace it with a parking lot, while others wanted the house preserved. Dave Green of Northend.org said that Swarthout has put a lot of effort into creating a realistic proposal to integrate Trica into the Hyde Park neighborhood. Swarthout says he has tried his best to listen to the opinions of all the neighbors, and that 95 percent of them approve because they feel this project is the building's best chance at survival.