Como residents oppose recovery developmentby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
In a quiet St. Paul neighborhood, residents are taking extraordinary measures to keep a proposed sober-housing development out of the community.
St. Paul, Minn. — Some residents in the Como Park neighborhood have sent out thousands of postcards and fliers opposing the concept. One person has even created an anonymous Web site warning that sex offenders and prostitutes could be roaming the streets if the development is built.
Now, other residents say the tactics have gone too far.
When a fight gets this nasty so quickly, sometimes the most interesting frictions are in the middle.
"I'm a mom, [I've got] two kids," said Lori Klongtruatroke, a Como resident. "I've lived in Como Park with my husband and dog for eight years now."
Klongtruatroke can see the brick buildings that make up the Sholom Home from her bedroom window. The nursing home is relocating in few months and one Minneapolis-based nonprofit is thinking about building up to 100 apartment units there for people with chemical-dependency issues.
Residents who heard about the idea had a lot of questions. Klongtruatroke and her neighbors don't think a sober development that large is a good fit for her neighborhood, which is just across the street from the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.
"They want to know, they want to know what's going to go in," Klongtruatroke said. "They want to know, 'Are we going to have sex offenders?'"
Early efforts to demand answers about the intentions of the nonprofit, called RS Eden, have spiraled into a massive opposition campaign. One of the neighbors created a Web site called "stopeden.com."
Klongtruatroke says the day the site went up, she was horrified. There were pictures of drug syringes, and drunks who were passed out on park benches. The Web site asks questions such as: "Have you ever seen a public park restroom overwhelmed by drug users, dealers, and prostitutes?"
"At this point, I said, 'I'm done," Klongtruatroke said. "I can't go forward with this."
Klongtruatroke has joined other neighbors in forming a splinter group that still has concerns about RS Eden, but is trying to distance itself from the anonymous Web site. She has even created a new Web site, at "saleofsholomfacts.org" intended to offer a more objective look at the issue.
"In my mind, it was just wrong," she said. "It was just insulting and it was going to create sympathy for RS Eden. My initial reaction was, 'Somebody is going to get sued.' It wasn't what I had foreseen the community as asking and needing to know. They didn't need to know there would be drug addicts hiding in the woods in como park."
Dan Cain, president of RS Eden, said the site is "the most cowardly, despicable thing that I've seen in a long time."
"It not only misrepresents what we do, but is totally hurtful and offensive to the people we serve and the neighborhoods where we serve," Cain said.
Cain said the residents who oppose the development are getting ahead of themselves. He first approached the area's district council in August to explain that his group had an interest in purchasing the old Sholom Home site. RS Eden hasn't gotten control of the property and Cain said he's just looking for community support.
Cain says case managers would be on staff at the development, as well as a 24-hour front desk. In other RS Eden housing developments, he convenants with the neighbors prohibit sex offenders from living there.
The Como community council has scheduled a public meeting about RS Eden's plans on Oct. 23. Cain said construction is probably at least a few years out, and that's only if his group decides to build there.
But already, many neighbors have made up their minds.
About a block from the Sholom Home, Bob Brown is fixing up his '57 Oldsmobile on his driveway. He's worried that a large recovery center would diminish the area's property values.
"And now they want to put transitional people over there that have drug problems and drinking problems?" Brown said. "I'm sorry, but this a nice, quiet neighborhood. That's not going to help our neighborhood or our property taxes."
Some residents question whether the RS Eden concept is too large to succeed. And, they also point out that there are two other nearby housing facilities serving at-risk youth. Rather than "not in my backyard," some neighbors have adopted the phrase, "not any MORE in my backyard."
Those arguments sound familiar to Gloria Perez. The president and CEO of Jeremiah Program, she encountered neighborhood resistance when her Minneapolis nonprofit proposed building a supportive-housing development for single moms and their children in the Summit-University neighborhood in St. Paul.
"I think the reality is that many of the inner-city neighborhoods do have an abundance of low-income homes and subsidized programs within their communities," Perez said. "I think everyone can say they've all taken their share."
But Perez said questions of scale are legitimate, and that nonprofit leaders should be open to compromise if they want to garner support from their neighbors. Her nonprofit, for example, reduced the design of her campus from four stories to three.
But in Como, there are no signs of compromise yet. On an online forum devoted to this issue, residents have begun brainstorming the kinds of uses they'd prefer to see at the old Sholom Home site. They've proposed a veteran's home and a European-style bed and breakfast.
- All Things Considered, 10/02/2008, 5:24 p.m.