October 10, 2012 - The Sunset Hills Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-3 last week to recommend denial of a request for a conditional-use permit to operate a library on the former Paraclete Fathers property at 13270 Maple Drive.
Planning and Zoning Commission member Joseph Niemeyer's motion to recommend denial of the request for a conditional-use permit, or CUP, by Alwal B. Moore to operate a library at the 10-acre site was seconded by commission member Jeff Sanders.
Besides Niemeyer and Sanders, commission members Terry Beiter, Nancy Goldkuhl and Kurt Krueger voted to recommend denial of the request.
Opposed were Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Nick Dragan and members Stuart Walls and Kevin Studer.
Commission members Patricia Otto and Al Koller were absent from the Oct. 3 meeting, the third one in which the panel considered a CUP request by Moore for the site originally owned by Joseph "Papa Joe" Griesedieck.
In an email sent to city officials the day after the meeting, Goldkuhl wrote she incorrectly voted for the recommendation to deny Moore's CUP request.
"My vote should have been against the recommendation and for permitting the use permit," Goldkuhl wrote. "I am against denying this request."
In her email, Goldkuhl requested the information about her vote be added to the minutes of the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting "and that the Board of Aldermen is informed of this error."
Had Goldkuhl voted in favor, the commission would have deadlocked 4-4 on the motion because two members were absent.
Under the city's code of ordinances, the commission would have had to reconsider the deadlock because it was required to deliver a recommendation — for or against — to the Board of Aldermen within the required 90-day time frame.
Before a public hearing on Moore's proposal, the commission chairman noted the panel would take a vote that night on it.
"… This is the third and final meeting regarding this. There's going to be a vote held tonight …," Dragan said.
Moore purchased the property 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 requested a CUP 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, the potential for increased traffic on those private streets and the safety of the neighborhood.
Moore's request for a CUP for a cultural center was unanimously tabled to the panel's Sept. 5 meeting after 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.
At the Sept. 5 meeting, Moore outlined his proposal for the library, which 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.
Nearby residents who addressed the commission Sept. 5 said while the library was a positive change, they still had concerns about access to the site, additional traffic and neighborhood safety, and needed more details about the proposal, which was tabled to the commission's Oct. 3 meeting.
At last week's meeting, Moore said, "… We've been up here several times before. This time, we listened to what the people said and tried to plan what they wanted. They wanted more specifics … Basically, it's going to be a library for many facets — children, adults, history — and there's one room in the tower that's going to be dedicated to the history of Sunset Hills, not really a museum, but it will have artifacts from all over the city …"
Regarding traffic concerns previously raised, he said, "I think the traffic has been greatly overrated. They're talking 35 cars."
When the Paraclete Fathers used the site, they probably had 35 cars per day traveling to and from the property, Moore said.
"We might have events at some time," he said. "We'll have special events. We may have more cars, but that's not a daily basis … If any event would happen, we have parking off site at my other property."
Of his proposal, he said, "… It's a dream that I have to preserve something that's a hundred years old. You can't replace historic property. Once it's gone, it's gone …"
During the public hearing, roughly 13 residents expressed their opposition to the proposal, while two residents, including Ward 1 Alderman Dee Baebler, said they supported Moore's plan. Also voicing support for Moore's proposal was Father Ed Griesedieck, a former resident.
He noted that he lived on the site, owned by his grandparents, when he as a child.
"... I've met the people who are proposing it," Griesedieck said. "I believe that they are honest and will do what they say ..."
While many speakers reiterated their previous concerns about the proposal, some commented they could not distinguish the difference between Moore's original request for a cultural center and his current plan to operate a library, noting a gift shop is included in the current proposal.
In response to questions from Walls, Jimmy Johnston, who is working with Moore to develop the library, told the commission, "… Things we were talking about as a cultural center are the same kinds of things that are done at libraries. Part of our understanding was that people hated the terminology of saying a cultural center and the idea of amending the conditional usage to having a cultural center.
"So really there isn't much difference between a cultural center and a library as far as the service that they provide."
Resident Tim Strege displayed a PowerPoint presentation and contended Moore's plan did not contain enough specifics in writing, particularly with regard to activities that would take place.
"… It sounds like it's just a different name for the same thing — cultural center or library — which Mr. Johnston more or less confirmed … The primary concerns of the residents have still not been addressed by this name change and minor changes," he said.
Citing the city's zoning regulations, Strege said, "The board shall not approve any conditional use, which they determine substantially increase(s) traffic hazards. Whether it's five cars or 35 cars a day, those streets are not easy to drive on through there and there's plenty of distractions. There's spectacular scenery. There's deer, kids.
"Having five to 35 strangers coming in every single day — new strangers — that is an increased traffic hazard."
Furthermore, Strege said, "… The character of the neighborhood would be changed by putting a business in the middle of a normal residential area …"
At Moore's request, the commission's recommendation to deny his proposal will be considered by the Board of Aldermen at its November meeting instead of the board's October meeting.