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Joint Planning Commission: Evergreen proposed relocation advances

BEMIDJI - The proposed relocation of Evergreen Youth and Family Services has received a positive recommendation from the planning commission.

Evergreen hopes to relocate its offices and drop-in center, both currently located at the intersection of 15th Street and Bemidji Avenue in the Bridgeman Center, to new construction at 610 Patriot Ave., north of Anne Street. The plan also calls for the establishment of six furnished apartments on a second floor above the office space.

"I think it's a great idea," said Nikki Lemmer, a member of the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Commission.

Evergreen is a local nonprofit that works to improve the lives of youth in the community, offering family counseling, independent living skills education, housing assistance and more. The drop-in center is available for youth who need basic needs such as food, clothing and hygiene products. It also has computers and staff on hand to help youth with finding employment or a place to stay.

Becky Schueller, executive director of Evergreen, told the planning commission that the proposal will allow staff to better serve the youth who would live in the upstairs apartments.

The planning commission unanimously recommended approval of an interim use permit that would allow office space in a multiple-family zone. The planning board will make final determination on June 11.

The six apartments, which can serve up to 12 people, are an allowed use of the multiple-family district.

"The residential is already allowed there," said Mayana Rice, planning administrator for the joint planning office.

Lemmer said her only concern was how youth would be transported to the site.

"We thought about location carefully," Schueller said.

While it may seem that the new location will be farther from downtown, Schueller said, it actually will be closer to some of the employment options for youth, such as fast food restaurants, Paul Bunyan Mall and big-box stores.

Noting, too, that 60 percent of the youth served by Evergreen are either pregnant or parenting, Schueller said the location is near the Sanford Bemidji medical campus.

Developer Bob Whelan, who has essentially partnered with Evergreen as the developer of the building, told the planning commission that he already works with Evergreen through its scattered site housing program, in which youth are living in apartments spread out throughout the city.

"We've had very, very good success with the people who work at Evergreen," he said.