North St. Paul denies chemical rehabilitation center plan

Amid concerns from neighbors and questions about emergency services, the North St. Paul City Council denied a request to allow a chemical-dependency treatment facility to move into the former Transitional Care Center.

The council would have had to amend the R-1B residential zoning district that includes the building at 2375 Skillman Ave.

It denied the amendment at its Feb. 5 meeting.

Alexandra Kislyuk, owner and president of Exodus Health Services, applied for the addition of "Chemical dependency residential treatment program for patients who are struggling with substance abuse issues-short term rehab facility" as a conditional use to the R-1B zoning text.

With the addition of this conditional use, she hoped to develop a chemical rehabilitation center in the former hospital-rehabilitation building.

Kislyuk proposed program with up to 50 inpatients residing in the building and 50 outpatients visiting for treatment.

The building, on 2.7 acres of property, is owned by HealthPartners and was most recently used as the North St. Paul Transitional Care Center.

The facility was built in 1961 and was vacated in 2010 following a mandate that such buildings had to install sprinkler systems. In a Review story about the closing, City Code Officer James Henneck theorized that the care center itself had been "grandfathered in" as the city's zoning got stricter over the decades.

However, any conditional use variances expire if a property is unused for a year.

Public hearing

The city's planning commission held a public hearing on the proposed text amendment and building development Jan. 30. At the hearing, North St. Paul residents were invited to offer comments, questions and concerns.

"The public was adamantly against it," Council Member Scott Thorsen said. "The building's neighbors came and expressed their concerns about having a rehabilitation center in their backyard."

Residents said they were concerned about increased traffic and more parking problems on streets; some expressed concern about the patients who would be treated at the facility.

The planning commission heard residents' concerns, but wrote that it recommended denial due to code concerns: the R-1B zoning district was intended for residential use and the text should go unaltered.

However, the commission added that North St. Paul does not currently have any standards in place for rehabilitation facilities serving more than 16 individuals. It recommended the council and staff consider creating these standards in the future.

At the Feb. 5 city council meeting, the proposed amendment was rejected unanimously, to Kislyuk's dismay.

"I feel very bad about this. I expressed verbally my disagreement with the council's decision after the meeting," Kislyuk said in a later interview.

She especially disagreed with claims that rehab patients could have posed a threat to nearby residents.

"On the federal level, patients suffering chemical dependency are classified as sick, not dangerous," Kislyuk said.

A felt absence

Currently, the eastern suburbs don't offer similar facilities, an absence the city recognizes.

"I see the need for a facility like this in North St. Paul, but in other areas of the city. It's something we're open to, it's not like we don't want it in our community. This was just the wrong area," Thorsen said in a later interview.

Community Development Director Nate Ehalt added that amending R-1 zoning to allow a conditional use for Exodus would also open other neighborhoods up to similar-sized facilities.

"Zone R-1B is specifically designed for detached single-family dwellings," Ehalt said in an interview. "It's the largest zoning district in North St. Paul, and this type of facility could be built anywhere in the district if this conditional use was approved."

Ehalt added that a rehabilitation center might be allowed in a different zoning district in the city,

In research submitted to the Planning Commission, Ehalt had found that the chemical rehab program "would significantly increase the amount of traffic in the R-1B zoning district." He added that cities with similar facilities reported anywhere from one or two emergency-service calls a week to being called to the facilities "frequently."

Kislyuk paints a different picture of how the council treated her request. "They told me, 'We're too small of a city, we have no places for such a facility,'" she said. "I was not given a voice."

A complex issue

The future of the building at 2375 Skillman Ave. is unclear, according to Thorsen, who theorized to the Review about pros and cons buyers might face.

"It's an attractive option for businesses because the space is there, so it's not a big investment. Possibly it could be another transitional care facility. But there was a year gap when it wasn't used and now, under current zoning codes, that wouldn't be a permitted use anymore," Thorsen said.

However, he admitted that due to its age and current zoning limitations, developers may decide to demolish the building.

"Down the road, it might get torn down to make room for three new homes," Thorsen added.

The property is currently listed for sale with Gordie Hampson of Cushman & Wakefield.

Johanna Holub can be reached at jholub@lillienews.com or 651-748-7814.

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