Eagan neighbors go NIMBY over plan for an arts community center

One neighbor even worried the ceramics studio would release toxic emissions.

One neighbor even worried the ceramics studio would release toxic emissions.

Jerri Neddermeyer fell in love with music when she was little. Her passion carried her into studying music education in college, which led to almost two decades of teaching high school band, most recently at St. Thomas Academy. 

The self-styled artist would one day trade music sheets for potter's clay. The wisdom of years had taught Neddermeyer to listen to her intuition, no matter how scary it felt to say goodbye to that which was comfortable.

During the decade she made ceramic art and taught pottery, Neddermeyer took notes about the dearth of resources for artists and art students in her city, Eagan. The same was true of surrounding areas.

"People from around here were traveling to the artist hubs in northeast Minneapolis or Lowertown in St. Paul," she says. "There was nowhere out here for them to go for studios to rent and work. We didn't have a place they could collaborate, come together to learn, a place where they could support one another."

From those voids came her dream to start a community center of sorts for artists and art students.

Neddermeyer is a founder and the president of the nonprofit Art Works Eagan. About six months ago the group signed a deal with the city to buy about a 13,000-square-foot former municipal building that's sat vacant since 2011. The sale price: $500,000.

Many were impressed with Art Works' mission and what its creation would add to the city.

Words of support from the Rotary Club of Eagan were succeeded by cracking out the checkbook. It would donate $50,000 for the building's down payment, and $20,000 annually over five years to help cover the upstart charity's operating costs. An anonymous sponsor would follow that lead, pledging $25,000 to buy the facility and another $50,000, paid out in equal increments over five years, to help with the bills.          

The City Council's approval of a conditional use permit was all that remained between the nonprofit and the closing deal. But the plan got derailed late last month at a public hearing.

Dozens of submitted letters complemented a line of about 15 residents who took to the podium. Most lived in the 45-house neighborhood directly behind the vacant building. Each spoke against having a home for artists in their backyard.

Their concerns varied, including depreciating property values, traffic issues, and the sounds of music being heard through the trees in the Kingswood neighborhood.

Sean Boodoo, who lives in the house closest to the site, supplied the most original reason for denying the permit. According to Boodoo, Art Works' plan to convert garage bays into a ceramics studio, complete with as many as four kilns, led him to believe the charity will be releasing "toxic" stuff into the environment.

Donovan Palmquist, who's been building kilns for 25 years, explained how proper venting eliminates any smell or air issues. Kilns, he noted, are "no different than your gas grill or your gas stove at home.…" 

Neddermeyer takes a measured approach to neighbors' worries, saying, "We all fear what we don't know."

Between now and July 18, the tentative date for the permit to come before the council, Neddermeyer knows the work she has to do.

"To listen with sincerity and honesty to every neighbor, and to win them over with trust," she says.