The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

May 16, 2010

Neighbors opposed to proposed Le Sueur youth center

Masonic building envisioned as business, gathering place

LE SUEUR — A plan to operate a combination business enterprise and youth center in a Le Sueur residential neighborhood has settled into snag mode.

“Our wonderful dilemma,” project instigator John Favolise said wryly of his efforts to convert a Masonic Lodge building into a technology-based business and gathering spot for local youth.

City Council Member Dan LaBelle said the proposal’s purposes and operating logistics need to be clarified before the council can say yea or nay.

“John’s a nice guy, but I don’t think he has all the answers,” LaBelle said.

Neighborhood resident Alison Jones said she and others living nearby are of the same mind regarding the proposal.

“It’s not lawful. It’s a business and a private social club and it’s not compatible with a residential area.”

Favolise said the idea for a youth center began when he was approached by some high school students looking to him for help in creating a gathering place for teens.

He said meeting-place options for local youths are pretty much limited to a gas station parking lot or driving to River Hills Mall in Mankato to hang out.

Favolise, who has a high school senior daughter, said he and his wife have been involved the past few years with students, providing them with computer access and other school-related technological resources.

His plan is to purchase the Masonic building and move his home-based business into its upper level, with the youth center occupying space below.

But there are sticking points. LaBelle said his main concern is parking availability, while other council members question whether a business should be allowed in an area not zoned for one.

At its most recent meeting the council tabled Favolise’s request for a conditional-use permit and asked him to provide additional information about his proposal.

“We just want to know what the use is going to be, who’s going to be there, the number of cars ...,” LaBelle said.

Le Sueur-Henderson High seniors Bridgett Karels and Natalie Thomas said they are cognizant of neighborhood concerns.

“The biggest concern is that kids would be loitering outside and interfering with their lifestyle in some way,” Thomas said. “But we’d be gathering to do homework and the like, not just hang around.”

Karels said aside from school functions, Le Sueur is lacking in activity/gathering places for high school-age youth, prompting many to head out of town — if they can.

“But that’s rough because not everyone has a car, and there’s nowhere in town that’s really designated for kids.”

Favolise envisions a youth center serving ages 13 to 20, with a pool table and other recreation amenities plus a homework/arts area. Hours of operation would be flexible, he said.

“We’d be open until 9 p.m., maybe 8 p.m., but until curfew? Probably not.”

He wants to dispel one perceived concern: “We are not putting in a nightclub.”

Jones said she isn’t debating the worth of a youth center but, rather, its proposed location.

“All the neighbors around this area are opposed to it. They think it’s a crazy idea to put something like that here.”

Favolise said he’s well aware of that dynamic.

“That’s the nature of a NIMBY project — not in my backyard.”

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