June 19, 2013 - The developer of a government-subsidized apartment complex being constructed at 6050 Telegraph Road in Oakville should stop work, 6th District County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, told the Call.
The County Council voted last week to approve a resolution directing the county Planning Commission to conduct a public hearing on returning the zoning of the 1.4-acre site to its original R-2 single-family residential classification.
The property's rezoning to R-8 residential was recommended by the county Planning Commission in April 2012 and unanimously approved by the County Council in May 2012.
The resolution stated the council's intention is to initiate "reverting, changing or amending the zoning" of the site back to its original R-2 single-family residential zoning.
The Planning Commission will conduct the public hearing at 7 p.m. Monday, July 15, in the County Council Chambers at the Administration Building, 41 S. Central Ave., Clayton.
The council voted 5-1 with one abstention to adopt the resolution. Besides Stenger, voting for the resolution were 3rd District Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country; 4th District Councilman Mike O'Mara, D-Florissant; 5th District Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights; and 7th District Councilman Greg Quinn, R-Ballwin. Opposed was 2nd District Councilwoman Kathleen Burkett, D-Overland, who serves as council chair.
First District Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, abstained.
In a statement he read at the meeting, County Executive Charlie Dooley said, "The council cannot lawfully go back and take away the development rights they already gave to the church for this project; but this is a council issue. The county executive doesn't have anything to do with council resolutions. I certainly hope there can be some resolution to this problem that doesn't end up costing the county — and ultimately the citizens — millions of dollars in lawsuits for the developer."
National Church Residences started construction a few weeks ago on the $5.1 million, three-story, 45-unit, 41,778-square-foot senior apartment complex, right after the demolition of the single-family house formerly on the property. Construction is funded with a $6 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, grant, which also paid for the property purchase and an architect.
The site borders Goddard School, a preschool for children ages 6 weeks to 6 years, as well as the Tori Pines Commons mini-strip mall and, bordering the back of the property, the Monastery of St. Clare, a convent.
The County Council's vote last week came after roughly 15 speakers — including Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville, and Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton — addressed the council, voicing their opposition to the project and urging the adoption of the resolution. Also speaking was Bruce McGovern, an attorney representing the Goddard School, who noted a petition opposing the development had been signed by 750 people and submitted to the council.
Although county officials, including Dooley, say all legally required notification procedures were followed, many residents were unaware of the development until the single-family house on the property was torn down in mid-May to make way for construction.
At a June 7 town-hall meeting attended by roughly 800 people, Stenger said he had heard from "two residents out of 36,000" who had received notice of the initial public hearing, a situation he described as "untenable."
Stenger told the Call it's clear the community is opposed to the development.
"... This is a community that does not want this residential development and they've spoken. They don't want it. They've spoken through petition. They've spoke through in-person communication. They've spoken through email communication. They've spoken through telephone communication. They've spoken every way they can speak and I think that has to be respected, and if it brings on litigation, then it's going to bring on litigation.
"But I will say this: National Church Residences, very importantly, has the option to halt construction ...," he said. "If they wish to mitigate their damages, they can halt construction. They don't have to move forward. They could wait to see what the Planning Commission wants to do ...
"I would caution them that this may be a situation where the Planning Commission acts, the County Council acts and they may be ... essentially zoned out of their intended use. And if that happens, they have had an opportunity now to cease their construction, and I conveyed that to their attorney. I conveyed that to their attorney Tuesday (June 11) after the meeting. I told them they have the option to stop, and they should because this very well could turn out contrary to what they would like. And if it does, they have an opportunity now to mitigate their damages."
The issue is the lack of notification to Oakville residents, the councilman said.
"... We have a situation where an entire community has, on so many occasions now, said that they did not receive notification," he said. "I think we all can agree that one of the very founding principles of our government, whether it be at the federal level, the state level or the local level, is notice and the opportunity to be heard.
"And we now see that residents from our community are filling up auditoriums any chance that they are able to fill up auditoriums to speak out against the project for a whole host of reasons ..."
Stenger said he intends to be "the voice of the community ... I'm going to make their case wherever it needs to be made and I will do my best to convince whoever needs to be convinced. I don't think that the county executive is going to be convinced, but I'm going to do everything I can to try to do that. But he's made his intentions clear. His intention is that this project needs to move forward ... I'm going to do everything in my power to represent my constituents because they have spoken. I've heard them. I think the County Council has heard them, and we need to respect the will of the people."
If the Planning Commission recommends reverting the zoning back to R-2 single-family residential and the council adopts an ordinance approving that change, then the site cannot be developed as an apartment complex for seniors, he said. The ordinance could be vetoed by Dooley, but Stenger said he would work to override a veto.
"So I think from a practical standpoint and a principle standpoint, this is the right thing to do," he said. "... I don't run from the fact that I originally approved the project, that I originally voted for it, that originally it was a unanimous decision of the County Council and the unanimous decision of the Planning Commission. That was certainly the case. But that was certainly the case before I heard from the community, and the community's will and wisdom is what is relevant here — not what I think ..."