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Hiawatha Bluffs Living project approved; facility groundbreaking set for fall

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Winona will soon have more housing for adults with mental health issues, as a plan to build a 20-unit living facility off of Service Drive moves forward.

The 1.30-acre site, proposed by Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center, is at the rear of 1423 and 1437 Service Drive, directly behind Slumberland and Westgate Bowl. A 20-foot driveway between Slumberland and Westgate will connect the building to Service Drive.

The site was approved by the Winona Planning Commission late Monday, and Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center director Julie Hanson said groundbreaking on the project is set for late September or early October, with a completion date of June 2016.

Hanson said while the site may seem odd for a residential project, it was the only piece that would accommodate the project’s budget of about $3.25 million in state bonding.

“I looked for property in the city of Winona for probably nine months until this piece presented itself,” Hanson said. Property was available in the east-end industrial park, but that land was zoned commercial and much too expensive, she said.

City planner Mark Moeller told the commission and audience that because the property adjoins a residential area, the residential use is appropriate per the city zoning code.

Neighbors on Heights Boulevard and Bluffview Circle expressed concerns about safety and increased traffic near their homes.

Hanson said the state-licensed building, intended for single adult tenants with severe mental illness, will be managed and staffed 24 hours a day by Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center. Cameras and door alarms will provide increased security, Hanson said.

“We plan to be very mindful of the fact that we’re being located in a residential neighborhood,” Hanson said.

Before being placed in an apartment, individuals will be assessed to determine if they’ll be a good match for the facility. Each tenant will have a care plan that takes into account his or her ability to safely and appropriately access community resources such as shopping, recreation, public transportation, and medical appointments.

“It’s part of my agency’s responsibility to do that assessment work to keep everybody safe and secure,” she said.

Clients may have jobs in the community, which will allow them to contribute toward the cost of their housing, Hanson said, and state grant and Medicaid funds will supplement earnings for those necessities.

Hiawatha Valley has five residential facilities in Winona already, serving 49 adults. Hanson said demand for such living arrangements remains far greater than the supply, and she expects Hiawatha Bluffs Living to have a wait list of more than 80 individuals from Winona and the surrounding counties.

Hanson said the project will generate 10 new jobs, the majority of them full-time.

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