Plans for homeless youth apartments in Edina are pitting churches and hundreds of parishioners against some businesses and residents who think the project isn't the right fit for the Southdale area and could increase crime in the suburb.
On Wednesday, hundreds of supporters and opponents are expected to pack the city's Planning Commission to discuss the $9 million project called 66 West. It would be the first apartment building for homeless youths in the western suburbs, estimated to number about 250.
"I'm confident we have the right project in the right place," said Anne Mavity, director of new projects for Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, the St. Paul organization behind the project. "We think this project is ready to go."
For the past two years, local churches have been working with Beacon Interfaith to convert a TCF Bank building off W. 66th Street into the 39-unit apartment building, which would have space for counselors to help homeless youths finish school and find jobs.
In July, more than 170 supporters rallied for the project outside City Hall before a Planning Commission meeting. But the project was tabled to give businesses and community members more notice. On Wednesday, the Planning Commission is expected to vote on rezoning and changing the city's comprehensive plan to allow the building — the first formal step in a lengthy process.
Community Development Director Cary Teague said the city recommends support for 66 West, citing a Beacon project in Minneapolis that is "well-done and well-run." Plus, he said, one of Edina's goals is to provide more affordable housing.
So far, city leaders have gotten hundreds of letters and e-mails on the project, mostly in support.
But a nearby business told the city it's concerned that Beacon's two-story building isn't the right fit for the dense commercial and medical area of Southdale, which allows for buildings as tall as 12 stories. Among residents with concerns, one wrote that bringing homeless youths could increase crime, illegal drugs and other issues in Edina and decrease homeowners' property values.
While Mavity said she understands the concerns, she said the building will help homeless youths, which increased in Hennepin County suburbs by 27 percent between 2005 and 2011. The estimate of 250 homeless youths counts those in the Bloomington-Richfield-Edina area.
"There's not a lot of affordable housing in Edina, so there's not experience with this," she said. "But it's a positive contribution to the community opposed to the fears and concerns that may rise in people's minds."
After two years of planning and looking at many other sites, Mavity said the bank building, at 3330 W. 66th St., is the perfect location for the apartments because it's across the street from a Metro Transit bus stop and is in the midst of many nearby entry-level jobs that could provide employment.
Beacon would expand the building for 39 studio apartments, each between 355 and 456 square feet. It would also have offices, a community area for residents, a fitness room, a computer lab and laundry.
Edina Community Lutheran Church has committed $80,000 and considerable staff and parishioner time toward the $9 million project. Several other churches in Richfield and Edina are also supporting it.
"It's really powerful to watch the community come together," said Mavity, a member of the St. Louis Park City Council. "You rarely get that kind of passion in support of something."
If the Planning Commission recommends approval of the rezoning and comprehensive plan changes, the plans are expected to go to the City Council for a vote next month.