Debate on Sholom Home site heats up


Although it’s been on the market for about a year, the Sholom Home East property wasn’t a hot topic of discussion in the Como Park neighborhood until a social service provider recently expressed interest in the site.

When RS Eden, a nonprofit agency, raised the possibility of converting the care center at 1554 Midway Parkway, just east of Snelling Avenue, into a housing project, it set off a wave of speculation and debate among residents.

Some question whether the clientele they expect the facility to serve would be a good fit for a neighborhood that is already host to two transitional facilities — the Salvation Army’s Booth Brown House and the Hubert H. Humphrey Job Corps Center.

RS Eden has not made a purchase offer, nor has it presented a formal proposal for redeveloping the site. A community meeting on the issue is scheduled for 7 p.m., October 23, at the Lyngblomsten Care Center Chapel. The entrance is on Midway Parkway.

But comments by RS Eden president Dan Cain suggest that the agency envisions something similar to facilities it already operates elsewhere in the Twin Cities, described as “sober, supportive housing projects for single adults without children.”

The Sholom Home opened at the Midway Parkway site in 1923. The care center is moving to a new campus at Otto Avenue and West Seventh Street, with expected occupancy in spring 2009.

Lori Hill, who lives with her family on Almond Avenue, near Sholom, laments the departure of an institution that she says has been a positive force in the neighborhood. Hill, who wonders how the community is expected to “squeeze in” yet another transitional residence, is part of an e-mail discussion group (como_neighbors-subscribe@ seeking to develop alternative use scenarios.

If RS Eden decides to proceed, it is generally agreed that the transaction would not require the approval of the St. Paul City Council, or any other government entity, unless a zoning variance were sought.

Nonetheless, said Cain, “It is consistent with our mission and philosophy that we meet with the neighborhood first, because the neighborhood has to accept and be a partner to a project like this.”

Russ Stark, Ward 4 St. Paul City Council member, sees RS Eden’s open-handed attitude as a positive, but also understands the angst in the neighborhood, which has just gone through the congestion of another State Fair and continues to deal with increasing traffic associated with Como Park.

“The residents want to maintain a stable community,” he said, “so when they hear that something’s being proposed that to some degree would involve another transient population, it’s unsettling. Tensions are high.”

At the same time, Stark said, there are limited options for the property. A statewide moratorium on additional nursing home beds makes it unlikely that another care center would occupy the site.

“To me, there’s a real risk that we will wind up with a vacant building, which can lead to all sorts of other problems,” Stark said.

Janice Rettman, Ramsey County Commissioner for the Como Park neighborhood, said she “strongly believes that the re-use of the Sholom Home property is an opportunity that must be vetted by those who live and work in the neighborhood. I am confident all who have shown their love for their neighborhood will assist Sholom Home owners to find the right match.”

Current zoning would permit reuse as multifamily housing, conversion to retail/commercial/office space or group-living facilities.

Luke Kuhl, chair of the District 10 Land Use Committee, said he has urged those in opposition to RS Eden to come up with “realistic” alternative uses for the property.

Although Community Council land use recommendations usually are forwarded to the City Council or various commissions, said Kuhl, the current case is different.

“The board’s recommendation essentially would be guidance to a private company — more of a community statement — and not binding on RS Eden or anyone else,” he said. “Nonetheless, it might be useful to city and county officials down the road, should RS Eden pursue the Sholom Home site.”

Cain said there are many variables for an RS Eden operation at the Sholom Home location — number of units, configuration of buildings, tenant mix — that will have to be sorted out before a formal proposal can be assembled.

“I would hope to get neighborhood input into the design, assuming we can get a level of support that would justify moving forward at all,” he said.

Cain contended that people generally agree that RS Eden facilities and others like them are needed; they just don’t want them in their neighborhoods. “I feel it’s important to advance this dialog,” he said. “Everybody has to live somewhere, and if everybody says ‘not here,’ then where?”