Bob Lipe is well known in the West Central Community Center. He owns a service station and a convenience store there and the building where the C.O.P.S. West police substation is located. Now he wants to use the proceeds from his late wife’s life insurance policy to build the Donna Marie Lipe Teen Town. No one faults Lipe’s goal, but his plan has drawn criticism. City Hearing Examiner Greg Smith recommended against giving Lipe the special permit he needs, and the Spokane City Council has the matter under advisement. At the Spokesman-Review’s request, Lipe wrote about his plan. His column appears below, along with a teen perspective and some of the arguments against Teen Town.
My late wife and I started out a few years ago to build a small, nonprofit teen center on a lot we owned in the West Central Neighborhood. The lot was zoned R2 so the center needed a special permit. This process was started quite a few months ago, and all the hoops and hurdles have been gone through. I met with 10 different city department heads. After about 20 meetings, they unanimously agreed the project was a good one and recommended the special permit be granted.
A couple of months later I had to meet with the city hearing examiners to get the final OK. Guess what? The hearing examiner said, “no.” His main concern was that I couldn’t provide 40 parking places for 30 or 35 kids who don’t even own cars.
There were other concerns. One person said some kids stole peaches from her tree. One found some candy wrappers on her lawn. Another said some kids broke a window and one kid urinated in his yard.
I’m not completely aware of all the bureaucratic process, but I fail to see what a kid taking a peach two years ago has to do with granting a special permit.
In fact, I believe it strengthens my position: The kids need a place to go and enjoy themselves so they won’t be out committing all those abovementioned horrendous crimes.
The fact is, we believe we can stop at least half of these problems by providing a fun place where kids want to go. We would post a list of violations that would result in suspension, from three days to permanently, depending on the seriousness of the charge. Stealing peaches or littering a lawn would be about three days, selling drugs or hurting someone could be permanent.
Proper child training should start in the home, but in a lot of cases it just doesn’t happen. The largest reason, I believe, is that about 35 percent of American homes are fatherless. It’s hard to imagine how a single mother with a flock of kids can cope at all with the things she has to deal with. Consequently, society, the police and community leaders are left with the aftermath.
The millions of tax dollars spent to help kids at risk falls way short of the objective. One reason, I believe, is that most of the money is spent on high-priced staff and hardly any goes for the kids themselves. Under the new “Contract with America,” there will be less and less tax money to distribute. This means more and more businesses, churches and community volunteers are going to have to help take up the slack.
The plan for our teen center is not to need or want any tax money. In fact, real estate taxes on this property now are about $400; after Teen Town is built, I predict we will pay about $1,200.
The center would be open from 3 to 9 p.m. and would provide table tennis and pool tables, a boxing ring, arcade games, snack bar, juke box, quiet place to talk, athletic teams, a dance or two a month and other things after we get going. And this is a non-profit endeavor; no money will go to me or anyone on the board.
Our mission is to get kids off the streets and into a friendly, controlled environment so at least part of the time they are not subjected to drugs, pimps, bullies and gang recruitment. If we can save a hundred kids from becoming a community or police problem, then my wife’s insurance money couldn’t have been spent better.
“First, we have known about the proposal for some time and the WCCC board were visited last March by Mr. Lipe…. His presentation was devoid of any specifics one would expect in a business plan regarding program, financing and security. For that reason alone the board was wary of lending its support to something so incompletely thought through…
“Second, there are a number of coalitions at work on precisely the problem Mr. Lipe wishes to address. I will merely call your attention to the Youth Violence Prevention Grant, Breakthrough, the Communities That Care and the Spokane Adolescent Health Consortium.
“All these groups … are seeking to cooperate toward the goal of dealing with the needs of youth. They are doing statistical studies of what the needs of that group really are, forging agreements to coordinate efforts and seeking funding for their efforts through private foundations and government agencies.
“The staff of WCCC are part of that effort and Mr. Lipe is cordially invited to participate and contribute. We think it a good idea, however, to make plans with such efforts rather than in spite of them.” -Rex Hollowell, president, West Central Community Center Board of Directors, testimony to Spokane City Council (excerpt), April 30, 1995.
“We (Spokane Community Housing Association) own a single-family dwelling … immediately adjacent … to the proposed teen center site….
“The noise and traffic congestion created by the proposed operation would make our property valueless as a family dwelling. We are especially concerned about what hours the club would be operating, particularly how late at night would it be open? We also are concerned that there is not a responsible plan for management to ensure the club does not create an attractive nuisance and a setting for crime, drug dealing and violence.
“We do not feel that this site allows for sufficient parking to handle the traffic that would be generated by a teen center. A significant increase in traffic congestion and noise will greatly reduce our ability to market the single-family dwelling we own adjacent to this property…” - Gerald Hoffman, executive director, Spokane Community Housing Association, letter to City of Spokane Planning Department (excerpt), Feb. 10, 1995.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: We want your input Readers are iunvited to share their thoughts about Teen Town. You can mail your comments to Doug Floyd, Interactive Editor, The Spokesman-Review, 999 W. Riverside, Spokane, WA 99201; e-mail him at celh27b @prodigy:com; or leave a voice mail message at 459-5577, ext. 5466.