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Children’s treatment center pulls the plug on Golden Valley location

Citing burdensome conditions and neighbors’ reactions, they’ll take their business elsewhere.

MinnPost photo by Sarah T. Williams
Far right: Traci Hackmann, president and CEO of LifeSpan

A day treatment center for schoolchildren with mental illness has withdrawn its application for a conditional use permit in Golden Valley, citing burdensome conditions and the “extreme views” of some neighbors who opposed the project.

In a letter to Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris and City Council members, Traci Hackmann, owner of LifeSpan of Minnesota Inc., and developer and landlord Mike Whalen of Fundus Praedium LLC said they had been “taken aback” by the tone of a Feb. 5 council meeting, during which some residents and council members expressed concerns about threats to public safety.

Their business at the mixed-use site at 345 Pennsylvania Avenue would have renovated an older building, added 40 jobs and brought “a great service” to Golden Valley and the West Metro, Hackmann and Whalen said.

The focus on safety, they said, contradicted information from the city’s police chief and an agreement that had been secured to have a qualified health officer on site to manage any “emergency holds” (in which a child is transported and hospitalized for emergency care). The agreement to add a health officer would have reduced any extra burden of calls to the police department, and was just one of many conditions to which LifeSpan had agreed before approaching the City Council with the unanimous approval of the Planning Commission. Only to be turned down by a 3-2 vote (with the tie broken by the mayor) after a heated public hearing.

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“The planning commission presented us with 16 conditions, all of which we were prepared to meet,” Hackmann and Whalen said in their letter, which was sent Tuesday. The number of conditions was unusually high in their experience, they said.

The council and mayor, alternately apologetic and accusatory, unanimously rescinded their “no” vote on Feb. 18, but that action “was not at all reassuring,” Hackmann and Whalen said. “None of the three people who voted for the original motion to deny approval indicated that they would even consider changing their vote in the future and went to great lengths to say that they were not committing to anything.” The burden would be on them to address the neighbors’ “unfounded fears and concerns,” they said.

Given the lengths to which they already had gone and would still have to go, it was time to “cut our losses,” they said.

It was a practical but painful decision, they said.

Saddened but determined

“We are saddened that due to the decisions by the majority of the city council and extreme views of some local residents, we no longer see this location as a financially viable option and will not be going forward with this project,” Hackmann and Whalen said in their letter. “Children with mental illnesses are loving and delightful; they live in your community, attend your schools, participate in your faith communities, and play in your parks, they simply have an illness that requires treatment.”

The two expressed their gratitude for the Planning Commission, the council members who voted yes, and “the numerous kind and generous” people of Golden Valley who reached out after media reports to express their support. They said another community “willing to accept and welcome this treatment program and its children” had expressed interest.

After the vote to rescind, Hackmann said in an interview that, even as she could see the plans unraveling, she was undeterred.

“I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m taking care of kids,” she said. “If you want me at my most obstinate, if people say, “Not in my back yard,’ I’m going to say, ‘Not on my watch.’ I have to do my job. I have to take care of the kids. And if it’s not a safe, comfortable environment, then I have to find that place. That’s my job.”