Tangletown church proposes ‘green’ housing

Proposal sparks some criticism from prospective neighbors

TANGLETOWN – Mayflower Community Congregational Church at Stevens Avenue and East Diamond Lake Road is one part worship space and two parts parking lot.

A bustling urban community surrounds the modest brick building, with the Museum of Russian Art across the street, cars zooming by on I-35W and a plethora of successful new shops lining Nicollet Avenue nearby.

At the edge of their land, resting on a bed of overgrown grass is a small duplex owned by the church. The house is old, with off-white stucco siding and a rickety blue swingset languishing in the backyard. Refugee families have lived in it rent-free since 1997, but for the past 15 years, the 300-member Mayflower congregation has been searching for better way to put its ample space to charitable use.

"The purpose of our being is to live for compassion and justice on this Earth," explained Rev. Sarah Campbell, team lead minister at Mayflower. "And so what do you do when you have that reason for being, and a piece of land, and you have a growing consciousness of the need for workforce housing in the community? You connect the dots."

Mayflower’s congregation has spent the last two years focused on the possibility of building an affordable housing complex. They developed a workforce housing committee made up of half a dozen church members – including two high school-aged kids – and held informational sessions about the nature of workforce housing, green architecture and urban planning.

"We both determined workforce housing and green," Campbell said. "We really want sustainability."

After an extensive search for a nonprofit housing developer, Mayflower settled on the Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation, which also happens to be a Christian organization. The foundation has a long history of providing low-income housing to struggling residents in Minneapolis. Some of its past projects include an apartment complex in the Stevens community for homeless adults and a 35-unit building in Loring Park geared toward low-income nursing students.

Together, Mayflower and the Plymouth Foundation worked to find an architectural firm that would be sensitive to the needs of the congregation and dedicated to sustainability. They ended up going with UrbanWorks, a company that specializes in multifamily and mixed-use buildings.

The organizations presented their plan for the housing development at Tangletown’s May neighborhood association meeting. The structure will consist of 40 units varying in size and price, but all will be affordable, with eight rent-subsidized apartments and one unit for a transitional refugee family. The monthly rent, for example, of a three-bedroom home in which the family’s income is $39,250 would be $970; a tenant who makes $20,790 could live in a two-bedroom apartment for $665 a month, including heat.

To keep the complex eco-friendly, UrbanWorks has laid out preliminary plans to meet the "Green Communities" standard. The building will have underground parking, energy-efficient lighting and appliances, nonhazardous paints and will be constructed with sustainable materials.

Neighbors’ concerns
The proposed development – which will be named Creekside Commons – has sparked some controversy among neighbors in Tangletown. Many homeowners are leery about the possibility of 90-plus new neighbors. At the neighborhood association meeting during which the project was introduced, residents interrupted one another and yelled across the room, causing the president of the board to limit each person’s comment time to two minutes.

Amy Rowland, a former housing advocate for the city of Minneapolis who lives at 53rd Street and 1st Avenue, attended the neighborhood association meeting and worries that density might be a problem.

"I am for the workforce housing, but I’m opposed to this particular plan they have because it’s too large," she said. "We’re already having congestion problems with the two apartment buildings that are right next door."

Traffic and density seem to be the main complaint among residents who don’t support the project, but one local business owner feels that, with an influx of low-income neighbors, crime could increase.

"We saw people steal things," said Scott Endres of Tangletown Gardens, which shares a street block with the proposed building. "We’ve gone and walked and followed them back to their places and asked for things back. That doesn’t happen to people on the parkway; it happens to people that live in apartment buildings."

As the co-owner of a garden shop, Endres doesn’t think that the workforce housing will get him many new customers because the inhabitants won’t have outdoor gardens.

"We are catering to, really, people that do have disposable income," he explained, "and as a result, you know, it’s not really our customer base that would be going into that space."

Endres is in favor of affordable housing, but he feels that it’s too easy for Mayflower congregants to support the plan from afar. "If that low-income development was right next to their personal home or their personal businesses, I wonder if they’d still be as pro-project."

Nearby businesses like Liberty Custard or the Museum of Russian Art will also have to deal with a surge of new neighbors. But to some residents, this is seen as a positive step for the city of Minneapolis.

"I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for Southwest Minneapolis to bear their share of the burden siting affordable housing," said Mary Jane Mitchell, a newly elected board member of the Tangletown Neighborhood Association who lives on 49th and Lyndale. "Many people can’t buy a house right off the bat – they have to rent until they can develop the resources they need. Does that mean they can’t live in the neighborhood they would like to someday buy in? That doesn’t mean they’re less-desirable people."

Lee Blons, executive director of the Plymouth Foundation, said the foundation has come across many stereotypes surrounding workforce housing.

"It’s often associated with slum landlords, and that’s not what this is," she said. "People will be screened. People have to qualify. They have to show that they’ve been a good tenant someplace else. And we check criminal backgrounds."

Mayflower also plans to keep active in Creekside Commons by offering free tutoring and helping residents deal with issues like mass transit and childcare. "There will be no proselytizing at all," Campbell said. "There’s not the sense that we’re hoping to get members out of [this], but certainly everybody is welcome here."

The Plymouth Foundation has already taken the first steps toward getting approval from the city’s Planning Commission. Because they will also need to receive state and city funding, the entire process could take well over two years. Mayflower hopes to earn the support of the Tangletown Neighborhood Association, which will help if they need to apply for rezoning and variances.

"We hope that neighbors, once it happens, realize that it’s a wonderful thing and that then there will be more involvement," Campbell said. "We could all play it safe all the time in our lives and keep fences and keep everything separated, but that’s not what it means to live in community and care for one another. I think we’re willing to take the risk."

Reach Mary O’Regan at [email protected] or 436-5088.