Kingfield youth housing project gets final approval

Plans for a Kingfield affordable-housing complex sailed through the city’s final approval process late last month, ending nearly a year of neighborhood tensions and community meetings.

Nicollet Square, at 3700 Nicollet Ave., will house homeless and at-risk young adults in 42 studio apartments and provide them with support and opportunities as they work toward independent living. The ground floor will have a pair of retail spaces, possibly including a coffee shop, where residents can work. Construction is slated to begin in early 2010.

The project is a partnership between the Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation, a nonprofit developer, and YouthLink, which provides housing and other services to homeless youth.

“We’re bringing life and light to a quarter of a block that currently sits vacant,” said Lee Blons, the foundation’s executive director, at a Sept. 22 public hearing. “ … We’re not going to be a part of the problem, but a part of the solution.”

When the Nicollet Square project was announced in November 2007 it immediately sparked tensions. Neighbors worried about crime going up and property values going down.

That led to a series of community meetings over the winter and spring, hosted by the Kingfield Neighborhood Association and intended to educate on affordable-housing issues. Neighbors began worrying less about crime and more about how to make the three-story building’s footprint more palatable.

In response, developers made several revisions to the project, including redesigning the exterior with brick, adding off-street parking spaces, and signing an agreement with the Kingfield association that details the developer’s commitments to maintaining neighbors’ quality of life.

“The neighborhood really came together to put it together well,” said Tom Parent, Kingfield’s board president. “Our hope was setting up everybody to be really good neighbors.”

By the Sept. 22 hearing, when the Minneapolis Planning Commission unanimously signed off on the last variances and site plan for the project, most of the concerns had faded away. A few residents spoke out during a public hearing, saying the building was too large, and that it needed more green space and off-street parking. Most in attendance, though, wholeheartedly supported the project.

The Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation is also working on a second affordable-housing project in Southwest, called Creekside Commons, a Tangletown development for working families. Construction on that project is scheduled to begin in late 2009.