The Golden Valley City Council has rescinded a controversial vote that stopped a day treatment center for mentally ill children from opening in a building at the edge of a residential area.
The unanimous vote on Tuesday night opens the door for LifeSpan of Minnesota to try again for a treatment center at 345 Pennsylvania Av. S. However, at the council meeting, city officials said the developer that was working with LifeSpan to renovate the building has said he no longer wants to pursue the project.
LifeSpan CEO Traci Hackmann told the council that she is still interested in the building, where children ages 5 to 18 would be treated.
"It really is a wonderful location for our kids …, but it is really not up to me, it's up to the developer if he would support that," she said. "I'm still open and flexible."
LifeSpan has been working with developer Fundus Praedium LLC of Burnsville. In an e-mail Wednesday, Hackmann said, "We have no definitive decision at this time. Discussions are ongoing between LifeSpan and the developer."
The City Council's Feb. 5 rejection of the LifeSpan proposal by a 3-2 vote ignited a firestorm of criticism from mental health advocates, mostly centered on comments that preceded the vote. In a hearing, some residents called the children dangerous and warned that people who live in the neighborhood could be at risk.
On Tuesday, Mayor Shep Harris apologized for the tone of the hearing. He took some of the blame himself, but also said LifeSpan had not fully responded to citizens' questions and that mental health advocates who called a news conference to criticize the city for its initial decision had not helped the situation.
"I actually think that everyone, and I mean everyone, has some responsibility to bear on this," he said.
"I as mayor was uncomfortable from the beginning and I should have spoken out," he said. "I did not do that. I was trying to ignore the emotion and focus on the facts … and I believe that was a mistake. I apologize for that."
The two council members who supported LifeSpan's proposal in the Feb. 5 vote said they were saddened that the developer appears to have backed away from the project.
"The dangers of the clients of this program were overstated," said Steve Schmidgall. "I think the ship has sailed. Unfortunately, Golden Valley will not be home to this facility, and I'm real sorry to say that."
Said Andy Snope, "These findings were not of fact, but findings of fear. … I hope that after this meeting we can direct our Human Rights Commission to take a good look at mental illness and gain some education for our community. I believe we need to learn from this."
If LifeSpan's developer doesn't reapply for a permit, the issue will be closed with a "no" vote at a council meeting in March, City Manager Tom Burt said.
If the developer decides to pursue the project, the city wants to have informational meetings for neighbors before another vote is taken. The city would host a meeting with a moderator where LifeSpan and mental health experts could answer questions.
For neighbors and some council members, "big questions" remain to be answered about the proposed treatment center, said Joanie Clausen, one of the council members who voted for denial on Feb. 5.
"The questions have to be answered," she said. "Then my decision may be different."
Hackmann said LifeSpan is "happy to participate" in community discussion.
"It is imperative that a dialogue continues to help people better understand the needs of children with mental illness," she said in her e-mail.
Hackmann said that if the Pennsylvania Avenue location doesn't work out, "we will seek another favorable location within the northwest metro and will not limit our scope to a single city."
The group has other treatment centers in Burnsville and Shoreview.