Tags: St. Louis County News
August 14, 2013 - After the county Planning Commission recommended last week that the County Council reject a bid for rezoning the site of an apartment complex for the elderly that is already under construction in Oakville, County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, said he is waiting to see if he has the votes to bring the issue to the County Council.
The planning panel voted 6-1 to recommend that rezoning the site of the apartments at 6050 Telegraph Road be rejected. Commissioner Bill Sneed, of Oakville, was the lone vote to change the project's zoning. Sneed also was the only member of the Planning Commission who spoke during the vote, citing the lack of notification to Oakville residents as a reason to revert the zoning.
The planning panel's vote is only a recommendation, and the issue of the project's rezoning now returns to the County Council. In June, the council voted 5-1, with one abstention, to approve a resolution introduced by Stenger that directed the Planning Commission to conduct another public hearing with the intent to revert the zoning of the 1.44-acre site to its original R-2 single-family residential classification.
"It's an unprecedented action, so you need to have the votes of everyone before you bring something like that," Stenger told the Call. "For something this important, you need to know if it's going to proceed. You need to know if you have the votes to bring it to the floor."
A County Council ordinance to change the site's zoning back to R-2 single-family residential could be vetoed by County Executive Charlie Dooley, but Stenger said he would work to get the five votes necessary to override a veto.
Planning Commission Chairman Wayne Hilzinger and Commissioner Steve Lawler also live in Oakville, but voted for the project opposed by hundreds of their fellow residents. The Planning Commission is appointed by Dooley, who has said the project should not be rezoned for fear of lawsuits from the developer, National Church Residences.
"The most overriding issue is that due process was not given to the residents of Oakville," Sneed said to applause from an audience of about 50. "The county may have met the notification process, however — it failed ... Had we heard from the residents at the April 2012 meeting, I am confident this commission would not have approved this petition or at least made significant changes.
"The lack of due process, in my mind, mandates that we take the unprecedented action ... and let the council decide what needs to be done at this point."
The Department of Planning recommended rejecting the rezoning of the development, stating in its report that a senior apartment complex is a less-intensive use than the preschool next door, the Goddard School, which has 120 preschool students ages 6 weeks to 6 years.
In its report, the department said notification for the project met all legal requirements.
The property's rezoning to R-8 residential was previously recommended by the Planning Commission in April 2012 and unanimously approved by the County Council in May 2012.
More than 250 people attended the planning panel's July 15 public hearing to oppose the three-story, 45-unit, 41,778-square-foot apartment complex.
Developer National Church Residences, or NCR, is the country's largest developer of nonprofit housing for the elderly. The nonprofit company has already invested $1.8 million into the Oakville project, spokeswoman Karen Twinem said.
"Obviously, we were happy with the vote," Twinem told the Call. "We think that the Planning Commission staff did a very thorough job at looking at all the concerns of the people of Oakville that spoke, and I think they've addressed every one of them, as we have as well ... We weren't surprised, but we were pleased."
Although the construction of the building itself will cost $5.1 million, a $6.7 million grant NCR received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also covers the $575,000 land purchase, the architect and other costs associated with construction.
Opponents of the apartment complex, including Goddard School owner Cindy Pyatt and Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville, say they are committed to stopping construction and have established a nonprofit organization, the Concerned Citizens for Oakville Inc., that is taking donations to raise $65,000 for a bond to file an injunction and stop-work order against the construction.
"If you have to stand on my property to build on yours, something's not right," Pyatt said.