Brethren’s Meeting Room in Windom hopes to draw developer

A view of the Brethren's Meeting Room, which may be demolished to make way for new development at 806 W. 62nd St. Photo courtesy of City of Minneapolis

A church with no windows called the Brethren’s Meeting Room is tucked into the Windom neighborhood next to Peters Billiards at 806 W. 62nd St. The congregation wants to sell the Minneapolis building and build a larger facility in Lakeville, according to a spokesman.

The group hired an architect to design a vision for a four-story, 55-unit assisted living facility on the site, although the project currently has no developer. The height would largely consist of a 44-foot roofline, rising 33 feet on the north and featuring a decorative 49-foot peak to the south. The concept will go before the Planning Commission’s Committee of the Whole for initial discussion on June 14.

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The Brethren constructed the existing building in 1976 for daily services. Some of the nearby homes were originally constructed by members as well, as they tend to live in close proximity to Meeting Rooms, said spokesman Mark Oyaas of Neerland & Oyaas. Members have increasingly relocated to Lakeville in recent years, prompting the shift away from the Minneapolis Meeting Room, he said.

Nearby neighbors, still feeling the sting of the impact of the Peters Billiards project, are voicing strong objections.

Kyle Weir said the neighborhood is essentially a cul-de-sac, with a single entry and exit point. The streets couldn’t handle the traffic a 55-unit project would generate, he said, a comment echoed by several others.

“Our neighborhood just can’t handle that kind of capacity on any level: traffic, parking. There’s no way something that big could come in the middle of a tiny little landlocked neighborhood,” Misty Swanson said. “…If they get rezoned, there is no saying what they will build there.”

Some said they would prefer single-family home development.

While the Brethren want to be respectful to their neighbors, Oyaas said, they also feel an obligation to sell the property for the most they can. Building single-family homes wouldn’t pencil out, due to construction costs of $220 per square foot, he said. (Swanson said that cost is unreasonably high.)

“It’s almost not even a break-even for them to do something like that,” Oyaas said. “…What can you build with density that doesn’t generate a whole bunch of traffic?”

The Brethren landed on senior housing as the answer, and spent the past eight months working with Pope Architects on the design.

The concept calls for shared dining and common space on the ground floor and a rooftop deck on the third floor. Nineteen parking spaces would stand on one level of underground parking. There is some conversation about Brethren formally sponsoring nonprofit, market-rate senior housing targeted for members, but nothing is finalized.

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The Meeting Room is affiliated with Plymouth Brethren, Oyaas said. Members spend much of Sunday at church, attend evening Bible studies and celebrate communion as a full family meal, he said. The “low church” building holds no art and a simple layout, providing a contrast to elaborate and decorative “high” churches.

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In order to build the proposal, city officials must agree to rezone the property from a single-family to multiple-family district, or R1 to R4. The city must also agree to increase the maximum floor area ratio, reduce building setbacks, allow a drop-off area, and grant a conditional use permit for assisted living.

In 2006, a developer proposed a three-story, 42-unit condominium building on the site. The City Planning Commission denied the application. The developer appealed, and the City Council upheld the denial. City staff said at the time that high-density housing would not be appropriate at the location, and would be out of character with the single-family neighborhood.

Oyaas said the developer presented different plans to the city and the neighborhood, which prompted Brethren to withdraw from that partnership.

Oyaas said the congregation hopes to take the potential zoning change as far as they can themselves, incorporate neighborhood feedback, and then turn the project over to an operator or developer.

Resident Sally Newbury said she appreciates that church members have personally met with neighbors. She hopes neighbors can have some influence, however.

“While I can appreciate doing affordable housing and senior housing, and needing to do more of that, it’s tough when the structures are so big next to small homes,” she said.

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