September 12, 2012 - A request for a conditional-use permit to operate a library on the former Paraclete Fathers property at 13270 Maple Drive was tabled last week by the Sunset Hills Planning and Zoning Commission.
Commission members voted unanimously Sept. 5 to table the proposal by Alwal B. Moore. The panel will consider the request when it meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3, at City Hall, 3939 S. Lindbergh Blvd.
Moore helped found Sunset Hills and served as the city's marshal from 1958 to 1973 when the position was eliminated.
He purchased the 10-acre site originally owned by Joseph "Papa Joe" Griesedieck in January 2010 with the goal of preserving the historic buildings on the site.
Moore hoped the property could be utilized as a park, but the city did not have the funds available to purchase the site.
At the Planning and Zoning Commission's August meeting, Moore proposed to operate a cultural center on the site.
During a public hearing, nearby residents voiced concerns about access to Moore's property through the private streets of the three Tapawingo subdivisions and the potential for increased traffic on those private streets.
The commission voted 6-3 Aug. 1 to recommend approval of Moore's request for a text amendment to add cultural centers to the list of conditional uses permitted in an R-1 single-family zoning district. Commission members Terry Beiter, Jeff Sanders and Stuart Walls were opposed, while commission member Al Koller was absent.
Moore also requested a conditional-use permit, or CUP, to operate a cultural center on his property. That request was unanimously tabled to the panel's Sept. 5 meeting after commission member Patricia Otto suggested Moore meet with Tapawingo residents to discuss his proposal with the goal of reaching a compromise.
After meeting with Tapawingo residents Aug. 31, Moore sent an email to city officials announcing he no longer intended to operate a cultural center on the site, but instead requested a CUP to operate a library with the goals of preserving history, preserving green space and encouraging the exploration of literature.
As proposed, the library would include three of the site's buildings — the historic tower, a stone carriage house built by Griesedieck that would include exhibit space to be used by the Sunset Hills Historical Society; the chapel, which would be used as a reading area; and the McNamara building, which would house donated books and bookshelves.
Moore's revised proposal stated the library for Sunset Hills residents would be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. In addition, an advisory board would be established — including a member from each of the Tapawingo subdivisions — that would assist in determining the use and operation of the library and the property.
Moore also intends to seek to have some of the site's buildings, including the historic tower, included on the National Register of Historic Places.
At last week's meeting, Moore told the commission, "… I think it's a workable solution for all. I'm excited about it and I think the residents are, and I hope that the people of Tapawingo are going to be excited about it because it's sort of a blend of both worlds. I am not going to tear it down. There's too much history there to tear down. So the next thing is we have to do something with it that, of course, is agreeable to the neighborhood and other people that (are) involved in it …"
Otto commended Moore for meeting with residents and revising his proposal, saying she liked the idea of the advisory board that would include subdivision members.
"… I want, Mr. Moore, particularly to say thank you for going back and talking with the neighbors. I think this is an excellent idea …," she said.
During a public hearing, representatives of the Sunset Hills Historical Society told the commission they supported Moore's library proposal.
Historical Society President M.L. "Butch" Thomas said, "… Al (Moore) purchased the property to preserve the history of the area. That was his No. 1 reason for purchasing the property … Al's trying to do something good for the city and the area … I wish to endorse Mr. Moore's project 100 percent …"
Esley Hamilton serves as the preservation historian for the county Parks and Recreation Department and the St. Louis County Historic Buildings Commission.
"… I was asked to come tonight to explain that the county Historic Buildings Commission also thinks that this property is historic …," he said. "We have, over the years, designated less than 250 individual properties and districts as of (significance) to the whole county, and this is one of the properties that we designated after we did a study of this south county area in 1989 …"
"There are very few buildings of this quality left in the county. There's no other building anything like the stone tower. So when you're considering this property, I hope you will consider it in the context that it's really important to everybody …"
Nearby residents who addressed the commission said while the library was a positive change, they still had concerns about access to the site and additional traffic, and needed more details about the proposal. Several urged the commission to table Moore's request until specific details could be submitted to the city.
Resident Tim Strege, who lives across the street from the tower, said, "… As a concerned resident, I appreciate that Mr. and Mrs. Moore have made positive changes based on the input from the neighborhood, and the description as presented sounds very promising. But I'm still concerned that we don't have enough information yet, and that additional details should be filed with the city in writing so the concerned citizens have time to consider them — properly consider what some of these details are.
"They mention a couple of them like the hours of operation, which is great. But there's other details like what's the expected traffic? Would there be book signings that draw large crowds occasionally? Is this operation still expected to be self-sustaining? If so, they'll have to do something to raise revenue and I'd be interested what that would be. And then, of course, there's the issue of the access. All access to this property is through the private streets that we've discussed before. That would still need to be addressed …"
Strege urged the panel to table Moore's CUP request.
"… I just recommend that it be tabled. It does sound encouraging — definitely a positive change, but I recommend it be tabled until the proper paperwork is filed and public notice is properly given," he said.
Since last week's meeting, Moore has withdrawn his request for the text amendment to add cultural centers to the list of conditional uses permitted in an R-1 zoning district.