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Forest Lake City Council turns down zoning to allow psychiatric center

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A Twin Cities suburb has rejected plans for a new children's psychiatric center.

The Hills Youth and Family Services wanted to build the 60-bed facility on part of a family-run horse farm in Forest Lake. 

But on Monday the Forest Lake City Council voted against changing the city's zoning code to allow the facility.

The vote was 3-2, with one of the "no" votes cast by newly sworn-in member Blaine Backes.

Supporters said the center would bring 150 jobs. But Council Member Ed Eigner feared the city would lose out on tax revenue if the center is built in a residential area. 

  "I really believe that the financial impact to the city will be huge, not from the standpoint of receiving those jobs, but from the standpoint of tax revenue that we will forgo if we went ahead with that project at that location," Eigner said. 

The decision came despite impassioned pleas in support of the residential facility at a council meeting in February.   

The Duluth-based nonprofit had hoped to allow children and teens to care for horses as part of their treatment.

"This is such a unique spot here with the animal therapy, and the barn is already in place. I see no reason why this is even an argument," said Council Member Sam Husnik.

In a tweet after the vote, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota said "discrimination won" contrary to the wishes of the community. 

As the council members cast their votes, the audience reacted emotionally, crying "no" and continuing to talk back to the members in the chamber.