Developer scraps plans for sober housingby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
A nonprofit developer behind a large sober-housing proposal in St. Paul said Tuesday it's scrapping its plans because of intense opposition from neighbors. Opponents created an anonymous Web site that featured photos of drug syringes and people passed out in yards.
St. Paul, Minn. — The property in question is across the street from the Minnesota State Fair. RS Eden was considering turning an old nursing home into up to 100 apartments for people with chemical-dependency issues.
Even the proposal's biggest critics said they're shocked by their victory.
"In doing a ton of research and meeting with our community representatives, it just seemed like it was something that was going to move forward in some way, regardless," said resident Lori Hill.
Despite Hill's initial surprise, she said she's pleased that the developer, Minneapolis-based RS Eden, has backed off.
RS Eden maintains it was only in the exploratory stages of purchasing the site. The current owner, Sholom Home, is moving to another part of the city. But over the past month, word spread like wildfire about RS Eden's intentions to build.
Neighbors swiftly put up a Yahoo listserv, fliers and a Website warning others of the proposal. The opposition solidified well before a public meeting scheduled for October 23.
RS Eden President Dan Cain, described the reaction by some residents as "caustic" and "bullying." The controversy even caused rifts between neighbors.
"Then there's also the fact that, if we were to locate in this neighborhood, would I have to worry about these people who have spread false propaganda and Web-based lies to go around and harass the tenants?" said Cain. "You know, I'm just not willing to put those things at risk."
Several neighbors have told Minnesota Public Radio News that they know the resident who created the anonymous Web site at stopeden.com. The resident they identified did not respond to several requests for interviews.
Now at stopeden.com, gone are the black-and-white pictures of homeless drunks. They've been replaced with bucolic pictures of Como Park and a message thanking RS Eden. The site also suggests making a donation to support RS Eden programs.
Cecile Bedor is the city's planning and economic development director. Bedor said the opposition killed the debate before it could even start.
"I think it's really unfortunate that the process couldn't be seen all the way through," Bedor said. "RS Eden didn't come to us with a proposal for us to necessarily approve, they hadn't even had a purchase agreement yet. They were exploring this opportunity to do a great project in the Como neighborhood. And I think there were just a few people who used some unfortunate tactics to make sure the process didn't happen as I think it should have."
Officials with the Como Community Council say they'll go forward with a series of public meetings this month about the issue. But instead of weighing the RS Eden proposal, they'll discuss supportive housing in general, and another neighborhood challenge: What to do with an empty hulking building in need of a new tenant.
- All Things Considered, 10/07/2008, 5:50 p.m.