The Hastings man behind a veteran-focused community center is searching for a new location after questions of its fit in the neighborhood it was proposed.
Dean Markuson, a U.S. Army veteran and longtime veterans advocate, was hoping to establish the business at the former Caturia-Smidt Funeral Home, but the Hastings Planning Commission, a seven-member advisory committee to the City Council, recommended against approving the business permit at its Monday meeting. Markuson said he's moving on from that location and now looking at two other sites in Hastings and elsewhere.
"I was a little bit surprised," Markuson said. "I think it was a great proposition for the community."
The idea was for the former funeral home to host a library, museum and a roughly 150-person community center able to be rented out for events. Markuson initially proposed that the business also offer various services to homeless people, but removed that to better fit city permit regulations.
He's now looking at a site on County Road 46 and a former grocery store location in town, he said. If those don't work, he's eyeing two properties in Centerville, Wis., that could fit his plans. The former community coordinator of Hastings' chapter of Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, a veteran service organization, Markuson said the center would have a similar role in supporting veterans.
"I do love Hastings, I want to stay in Hastings," Markuson said, but acknowledged a new community could be good for him too.
It's the second business to get turned away from the site recently, a proposed homeless shelter in the former funeral home faced resident concerns and zoning issues last month. Residents raised concerns over its fit in the historically-protected neighborhood.
The space is a difficult one to find a new use for, said John Hinzman, the city's community development director. It's a large building at 7,300 square feet and a funeral home's location in a neighborhood is unique, he said.
And while Markuson's proposal fit the city's permit requirements for the site, the commission and staff also have to take into account neighborhood fit, he said.
"You want one that can operate in the neighborhood and ... is not out of whack with it," he said.
On Monday, residents said the business's role as a community center with the potential for events where alcohol could be catered made it a poor fit.
Amy Martin, one of about 11 neighborhood residents in attendance, spoke against the veteran's center and the previously proposed homeless shelter. She said she isn't against a business opening there or someone living there, but wants one that better fits — like hospice care or day services for adults.
"While I support the troops and Mr. Markuson's desire to help those in the military ... this location is not the right place," she said.
The city's commission members voted unanimously against it. Commission member Ian Martin said he supported Markuson's mission but that community feedback made it difficult to support.
"Not a person here tonight has spoken in favor of this and I think that, to me, sent a fairly clear message," said Ian Martin, a commission member. My parting words for you would be to take your passion and focus it on a different location."