The City Council’s Zoning & Planning Committee denied an appeal Thursday seeking to block the nonprofit NuWay’s plans for supportive housing in the Snyder Mansion at 2118 Blaisdell Ave.
City officials previously waived quarter-mile spacing requirements to allow supportive housing for up to 47 residents recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. They cited the guidance of the federal Fair Housing Act, which requires reasonable accommodation to grant disabled people equal access to housing. The Act also applies to people recovering from substance abuse.
In taking the vote, some Council Members said they would consider a future policy discussion on the city’s spacing requirements.
Council Member Lisa Goodman said that because the city doesn’t have much space allowing supportive housing (just 1.7 percent of land, according to city staff), she thinks the issue will return to the Council over and over again.
“I wonder now if it makes sense to simply eliminate spacing requirements,” she said.
Residents lined up to speak in support of the appeal, which was filed by nearby resident Ted Irgens with the backing of the Whittier Alliance neighborhood group.
Noah Rauen, a former Whittier resident, created a Change.org petition against the NuWay proposal that netted 297 signatures. He said that while previously living in his “dream home” in Whittier, a suspect who was in and out of recovery broke into the house and tried to charge into the door where Rauen and his wife were barricaded. Rauen said he intended to raise a family in Whittier, and now lives in Bryn Mawr instead.
“I wanted to bring some personal reality to what’s happening in Whittier,” he said. “It’s driving families away, and that’s unfortunate.”
Another resident said neighborhood kids have found syringes in yards.
“One more degree and the water boils,” she said. “We need more balance.”
An attorney from Lindquist & Vennum also spoke on behalf of the appellants, arguing that city accommodation of the facility is not required under the Fair Housing Act, because the current proposal is not necessary or reasonable.
Irgens said NuWay’s properties combined with other existing facilities cluster supportive housing and create an “institutional environment” that segregates disabled people. He said NuWay has attempted to buy several properties within a two-block area.
“You would have been at the corner of Nicollet & NuWay,” he said.
NuWay recently confirmed a purchase agreement to buy a building at 2104 Stevens Ave. S. to use for administrative offices, with plans to expand outpatient services at its existing building at 2217 Nicollet Ave. S.
Council Member Barb Johnson told residents her ward in North Minneapolis houses a disproportionate number of sex offenders and Section 8 housing units for low-income residents.
“A lot of people served are people that don’t come from those neighborhoods,” she said. “…The services provided here attracts people from all across the region. It is a challenge for us.”
NuWay Executive Director David Vennes said the new housing would double the amount of time clients are under NuWay’s supervision, easing their transition back into employment and permanent housing. At a prior public hearing, several people in recovery testified in support of NuWay, saying: “NuWay is part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
Grandchildren of Titanic survivors and original mansion owners John and Nelle Snyder also appeared at the hearing, speaking in support of NuWay’s plans.
“They would be honored today that the organization has chosen to partially restore their house,” one of the women said. “We are all bad stewards of historic preservation. This is something I would think the Whittier community would be excited about.”
The city’s Heritage Preservation Commission has nominated the Snyder mansion as an individual landmark, and has placed the interior and exterior of the property under interim protection.
Assistant City Attorney Erik Nilsson said the appellants are “trying to turn the entire FHA on its head.”
“The general trend is that local density restrictions are generally inconsistent with the FHA,” he said. “Several of these spacing-type ordinances have been repealed around the country.”
He said the law does not mandate the city to disperse housing for disabled people.
Council Member Lisa Bender, who represents the project area, voted to deny the appeal.
“I do think our hands are tied by federal law,” she said. “It does seem like a policy discussion that needs further thought.”
NuWay must apply for a conditional use permit from the Planning Commission to authorize the facility.