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Fred Weber willing to alter rezoning request

Willing to alter aspects of its rezoning proposal to construct a trash-transfer station, Fred Weber Inc. last week asked the county Department of Planning to reconsider its recommendation of denial to the Planning Commission.

Fred Weber is seeking to construct a trash-transfer station that would operate at the company's south quarry in Oakville.

Besides obtaining approval from the St. Louis County Department of Health and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources — neither of which has made a decision — the company also must receive authorization from the County Council to use a tract of the quarry for industrial purposes.

Fred Weber has submitted a request to the Planning Commission to rezone a 24.9-acre tract to the Flood-Plain Planned Industrial District from the Flood-Plain Non-Urban District.

The tract is about 300 feet southeast of Baumgartner Road, east of the Burlington Railroad and bounded by the Meramec River to the southwest.

The 6,400 square-foot structure that would serve as the trash-transfer station would be 40 feet tall and made of metal, according to Fred Weber Inc., with a 500-ton daily capacity.

The Planning Commission originally was scheduled to consider the rezoning request last week, but commissioners tabled consideration for another week so that they would have more time to review the planning department's report and recommendation.

The planning department is recommending denial of Fred Weber's request because "this request is contrary to that plan (Meramec Greenway Concept Plan) and has concern about the basic compatibility and logic of siting an industrial facility in such close proximity (to) the Meramec River," according to a department report.

Commissioners were scheduled to review Fred Weber's request Monday night — after the Call went to press — and then submit their recommendation to the County Council.

A show of hands at the end of a March 1 public hearing on the matter revealed 131 people opposed the rezoning request, while 39 people supported it. Two people spoke at the hearing in favor of the proposal, contending that trash-transfer stations generally decrease trash-hauling costs, while the 18 people who spoke in opposition of the station claimed that nearby property values would decrease, odor, flooding and traffic would increase, and the structure would be inconsistent with the Meramec Greenway Concept Plan.

Adopted in September 2003 by the Planning Commission and the County Council as part of the county's General Plan, according to the report, the Meramec Greenway Concept Plan incorporated the "high priority goals of preservation and reclamation of the Meramec River for its aesthetic, environmental, educational, recreational and economic values and benefits," into the General Plan.

Potential violation of this plan and the lack of desire to set a precedent with industrial zoning in the quarry is the basis for much of the planning department's denial recommendation.

"If an M-3 Planned Industrial District unrelated to the quarry were to be allowed at this location, it could set a precedent for additional industrial zoning and uses after the quarry operations cease. It could also prevent the reclamation of the quarry site to occur ... The department is of the opinion that industrial zoning that is unrelated to the quarry operation is inappropriate at this location ..."

The recommendation further states, "The department is also of the opinion the proposal is not consistent with area plans and studies, particularly the Meramec Greenway Concept Plan which stresses the preservation of the Meramec River watershed for scenic or recreational uses. Therefore, the Planning Department recommends denial ..."

Planning Department Director Glenn Powers told the Call that the department discovered that the proposal would not violate a county ordinance prohibiting waste-processing facilities from resting at least 1,000 feet of churches, residences, schools, child-care and adult-care and other related facilities.

Despite the proposal's distance from such facilities, Powers said, the decision to recommend denial, which was not a hard one to make, was based on the station's proposed distance from the Meramec River.

"It is inconsistent with our General Plan, specifically the Meramec River Concept Plan ... We feel these types of uses should be backed away from what we eventually see as a recreational use," Powers told the Call.

Despite public opinions expressed at the March 1 hearing, the planning department concluded that traffic concerns are not a significant basis for denial of Fred Weber's request.

Because of the proposed station's distance from residences and its "enclosed nature," the station would not pose enough significant noise concerns to base denial of the request, the recommendation states.

The department also is of the opinion that because Fred Weber is taking preventative odor control measures and there is "significant" distance between the station and residences, that "odor problems associated with the proposed facility would be highly unlikely," according to the report.

The report also states, "The generalized fear of decreased property values is not born out by the facts," noting that the quarry is a "much larger and more intense use than a trash-transfer station and it has not slowed the growth of residential development in the area or hurt property values."

After the Planning Commission's May 3 meeting, in which it held consideration of the recommendation for another week, south county resident Joe Gilbert told the Call he was concerned that Fred Weber had another week to evaluate the denial recommendation and submit information that could affect the commissioners. Other south county residents who attended the meeting said they also anticipated that Fred Weber would use the extra week to its advantage and "pick apart" the planning department's report.

On May 6, the company did submit a response to the commission, willing to change part of its proposal to be approved.

"It appears that the department's concern over authorizing the proposed trash-transfer station parcel with an industrial zoning designation is actually not one of creating precedent but rather of allowing the station as a stand-alone use whose future could extend beyond the operating life of the quarry and associated asphalt plant," Gary Feder of Husch & Eppenberger, an attorney for Fred Weber Inc., stated in a letter he submitted last week to the Planning Commission. "If the commission is concerned about such a hypothetical, Weber is willing to accept a condition of M-3 rezoning that would require the trash-transfer station to cease operations at whatever point in time the quarry ceases its operations."

Feder added, "If the simple labeling of the tract as 'industrial' causes the staff concerns over precedent, Weber is willing to accept a 5-acre rezoning in lieu of the 24.9-acre zoning which has been requested — an idea specifically mentioned by staff in the information report."

Feder describes the inconsistency between the Meramec Greenway Concept Plan as "perceived," noting that the station would be about 600 feet from the Meramec River.

"The department's objection ultimately, therefore, boils down to its observation that the station itself could 'easily be seen from the river,'" according to Feder. "... Weber is certainly prepared to work with the parks department to further buffer the limited visual aspect of the building as seen from the river more than 600 feet away. It is hard to believe that this issue could be a reason for rejection of the application rather than simply the basis for a condition to be addressed through the M-3 Planned District ordinance."

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