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Downtown Pocatello business owner files appeal against homeless shelter relocation

December 30, 2018
Matt Spencer

POCATELLO — The debate in Pocatello over proposed homeless housing facilities is not over yet.

Matt Spencer, a local entrepreneur and business owner, has filed an appeal to the Pocatello City Council against the city’s decision to approve the relocation of the Aid for Friends homeless shelter from its current location at 653 S. Fourth Ave. to the old Pocatello City Hall building at 209 E. Lewis St.

“The proposed project would have a significant negative financial effect on my business, in addition to many other nearby businesses,” Spencer wrote in his appeal, which his attorneys at the Racine Olson Law Firm filed on his behalf on Dec. 26.

Spencer owns multiple downtown buildings and businesses located near Aid for Friends’ proposed new shelter location. In addition to owning and operating Gypsy Tattoo Co. and Outlaw Vapor in the old Teamsters building on the 500 block of East Center Street, Spencer owns the McNichols building on the 300 block of East Center which houses The Office Bar & Grill.

Spencer recently purchased the Citizen’s Bank building known for being the longtime home of the now closed Shanghai Chinese restaurant adjacent to The Office Bar & Grill. He also owns the old Gem State Paper Supply Co. building on South First Avenue.

Of the four buildings Spencer owns, two are currently housing businesses that are located within 300 feet of Aid for Friends’ proposed homeless shelter. The Racine Olson Law Firm is also within 300 feet of the proposed shelter.

Spencer told the Journal earlier this month that his hard work to revitalize the businesses he owns in downtown Pocatello was his primary motivation for appealing the city’s decision to allow Aid for Friends to relocate its homeless shelter to the downtown area.

The former City Hall building at 209 E. Lewis Street is currently zoned as commercial general, one of the few zoning types in Pocatello that allows for homeless shelters.

But under the commercial general zoning, Aid for Friends was still required to apply for a conditional use permit to operate its homeless shelter in the former City Hall building. The initial request for the permit was presented on Dec. 13 at the current City Hall by BJ Stensland, Aid for Friends’ executive director.

Stensland said Aid for Friends’ current homeless shelter on South Fourth Avenue can provide housing for only about 45 people and is almost always at capacity. Relocating the shelter to the former City Hall building would allow Aid for Friends to provide housing for many more homeless people, though an exact number has not been provided.

The move would also allow Aid for Friends to move its administrative offices from East Center Street into the same facility as the homeless shelter on East Lewis Street.

A hearing examiner contracted by Pocatello, Keeven Shropshire, ruled on Aid for Friends’ conditional use permit request, as opposed to the Pocatello Planning and Zoning Commission, because the former City Hall property on East Lewis totals less than one acre of land. If it were a larger property, the Planning and Zoning Commission would have made the decision regarding the conditional use permit.

Shropshire approved Aid for Friends’ request for the conditional use permit in a written decision issued on Dec. 18.

Spencer filed his appeal of that decision in the wake of the Pocatello City Council voting 4-1 on Dec. 20 against a recommendation from the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission to rezone a parcel of land in a residential area so that a local pastor could build a 24-unit supportive housing complex, commonly known as Big Momma’s House, for the Gate City’s homeless population.

The “Not in my backyard” sentiments delivered by homeowners opposed to Pastor Jacqualine “Big Momma” Thomas’ mission to build the supportive housing complex on Pershing Avenue in Pocatello have been mirrored by many downtown business owners, like Spencer, who have said they support Aid For Friends’ search for a bigger and better homeless shelter but do not think that shelter should be located near their businesses.

Fred Lewis, an attorney with the Racine Olson Law Firm who provided testimony against Aid for Friends’ proposed new location during the hearing on Dec. 13, said the case is now being handled by Nathan Palmer, another attorney at the Racine Olson firm.

Palmer, Spencer and Stensland did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment for this story.

The Pocatello City Council will make the final decision on whether Aid for Friends can relocate to the former City Hall building. An exact date for the council to hold a hearing on the matter has not been set but it could be held as early as Feb. 7.

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