SPOKANE, Wash. - A deal that would have allowed the City of Spokane to trade several pieces of property in exchange for access and the ability to build a stormwater treatment facility on UGM property, has stalled.
The properties that would have been traded to UGM include extra property the city acquired for the MLK roundabout, dead end streets Erie and Denver between Trent Ave. and MLK Blvd.
Additionally, a city parcel along the river would be given to UGM.
The city would receive permanent access to the facility they build, easements along Denver and Erie, and an easement for the Ben Burr Trail.
After a public outcry from LGBTQ advocates, the deal was sent back to committee by city council members.
"I don't begrudge anyone being upset about it, because what they are really upset about is the exclusionary principles," said Council Member Breean Beggs.
Beggs along with other council members want to make sure the deal is equitable, and not giving undue benefit to the organization, which helps Spokane's homeless.
"We seemed to be giving quite a bit more actual land than the square footage of land we were getting," said Beggs.
LGBTQ advocates were concerned this equated to the city supporting the organization, which has sparked controversy because of its LGBTQ stances.
"This is flying in the face of everything that would be right, and human rights and acceptance, especially when we've come so far," said OutSpokane Board Member Maureen Smith.
The head of UGM says the organization regularly serves the gay crowd.
"We serve them all the time, we don't hate them, though we may disagree about some things," Phil Altmeyer said.
UGM has drawn criticism for its attitude towards the transgender community.
"I have 300 people staying in our shelter, I have to keep it safe for them and the transgender person," he said.
UGM also does not hire LGBTQ individuals, as is their right as a religious entity that doesn't receive city funding.
"We have a biblical platform from which we hire," said Altmeyer, "we don't hate the LGBT community, we just have policies that we don't hire anyone practicing homosexuality."
As the deal is deferred and sent back to the committee for review and further discussion, Beggs says he wants to make sure his stance is clear.
"I don't want anyone to think that while we are trying to protect the river, we are giving anyone in the LGBTQ community a slap in the face or that we favour the exclusionary principles at UGM," he said, "we are not."
He notes that the city doesn't screen people or entities that they work with or purchase property from based on their religious or political beliefs.
Altmeyer said he thinks the deal is a win-win for UGM and the city and hopes they can move forward.
"I think as we work together on this, the issue that is being brought to the forefront isn't relevant to the big picture," he said, "lets respect and honour the freedoms we have. Why divide over the issue?"
OutSpokane board member Maureen Smith says she would prefer no city deal be made with UGM, but if it has to be, it should certainly be an equitable one.
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