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Spokane City Council tables UGM land deal

April 23, 2019 GMT

The Spokane City Council backed out of a land deal with Union Gospel Mission after the public and council members said they were concerned the city had made an unfair deal with a non-profit that has faced controversy for its policies toward the LGBTQ community.

The land deal would have allowed the city to build a stormwater treatment project and use land for the Ben Burr Trail in exchange for giving UGM several nearby parcels.

Earlier this month community members criticized the deal, saying the city should not do business with an organization that doesn’t hire LGBTQ people or allow transgender people to stay in its shelter.

During a presentation to council members Monday, city staff said other locations would cost the city about $1 million more and a long delay could mean the city may miss out on a grant to pay for the project.

During the same presentation Phil Altmeyer, director of UGM, said the organization has served thousands of people at no cost to the city and noted that the agreement had been in the works for a year. At the City Council meeting Monday night, dozens of UGM supporters attended the meeting and several spoke out in support of the non-profit.

A few community members spoke out against UGM, criticizing the organization’s policy of requiring patrons to attend religious services to continue to stay at UGM, its employment policies and its requirement that client’s gender identity match their government ID.

Union Gospel Mission does allow lesbian, gay and bisexual people to stay in its shelter, but if someone’s gender identity doesn’t match their ID, they are referred to another shelter.

Every council member except Kate Burke, who was absent, and Mike Fagan, who voted against, voted to indefinitely table the proposal.

Fagan said he voted against the proposal because UGM had been serving the homeless for decades, and using their land would cost less and take less time than any other land in the area.

City Council President Ben Stuckart, who has criticized the deal saying the city shouldn’t be giving several parcels away for the right to use land, said the council would like city staff to find another way to build the stormwater treatment project.

“It’s done,” he said. “Five of us didn’t think it was equitable for the citizens.”

City Council member Breean Beggs said the city could purchase the land it needed for the stormwater project or consider using eminent domain as it did to acquire land that was part of the Brown Building Materials’ parking lot.