Lyndale’s New Life Ministries plans expansion, but councilmember says it’s too suburban

The Church of New Life Christian Ministries, 3536 Nicollet Ave. S., is building a $2-million, two-story addition that will allow expansion of its childcare and youth-serving programs, said Pastor Sam Nero.

Groundbreaking is expected in mid-to-late September, and the project should be complete by year’s end, he said. The church has more than $500,000 in pledges, and it is still working on a bank loan, he added.

The church would gain 9,000 square feet, according to drawings. Its childcare program, now licensed for 72 kids ages 6 weeks to 14 years, would serve 100 kids if the state grants approval. The addition’s second floor will have offices and conference rooms.

The new building will add more windows and lively colors. The new addition will help expand Kids Caf, a program that teaches church and neighborhood youth how to prepare meals, set tables and serve food. Twice a week during the school year, it provides free meals to 60 neighborhood kids. With the expansion, the church plans to offer the meal four times a week and serve up to 120 meals.

The church’s new addition has its critics, including City Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward), who objected to building next to the alley, leaving a large parking lot by the sidewalk.

"I’m opposed to it," he said. "I think it is a suburban solution. It is auto-based. It doesn’t fit in the city."

The project is too small to trigger a city site-plan review, something that would have given city staff more clout in shaping the design, Niziolek said.

The project needs a parking variance, and the city must vacate some land for the parking lot. The city had earlier reserved a 20-foot strip of land along the block for green space, but had given up the idea, Niziolek said. The city already vacated similar land on the blocks just north and south of the project, so it will be impossible to reject New Life’s request, Niziolek noted. "I can’t do anything about it. I’ve checked every legal angle," he said.

Nero said building to the sidewalk had drawbacks. It would have blocked the view of the apartment building to the north. It would have eliminated six of the planned 68 parking spots. He said the church would try to improve the aesthetics by landscaping along the building and boulevard.

The church has operated in the Lyndale neighborhood since 1987, Nero said. It is non-denominational and independent, in the Pentecostal and charismatic tradition. Roughly 300 families are members.