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Panel recommending denial of Salvation Army thrift store


January 12, 2005 - By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

The Crestwood Planning and Zoning Commission is recommending denial of a request by the Salvation Army to operate a thrift store at 9283 Watson Road, citing a lack of economic benefit to the city.

Because purchases at the proposed Salvation Army Family Store and Donation Center would be tax-exempt, no sales-tax revenue would be generated for Crestwood, commission members noted, citing the city's general fund financial problems.

But Salvation Army representatives countered that the thrift store still would benefit the city, generating additional foot traffic for nearby businesses and employing 15 to 20 area residents.

Salvation Army officials last week appeared before the Plan-ning and Zoning Commission, seeking a conditional-use permit, or CUP, to operate the 18,828-square-foot thrift store, which would be directly adjacent to an Aldi grocery store that is scheduled to open this spring in the shopping center that formerly housed Cir-cuit City. A CUP is required because a second-hand store is a conditionally approved use in a C-1 zoning district.

Commission members, with Chairman Matt Green absent, voted unanimously Jan. 5 to recommend denial of the Salva-tion Army's request, determining it would adversely affect the general welfare of the community.

During a presentation to the commission, Capt. Gerhard Scheler, local administrator of the Salvation Army's Adult Rehabilita-tion Center/Family Thrift Stores, said that the Salvation Army operates seven thrift stores in the St. Louis area.

Proceeds from the thrift stores are used to operate the Adult Rehabilitation Center at 3939 Forest Park Ave. The center offers a free six-month residential program to help men overcome their addiction to drugs and alcohol, he explained.

Though the thrift stores support the Adult Rehabilitation Center, Scheler said, "... They also meet the needs of people that come shop there. They can find some great deals in there, too.''

While Planning and Zoning Commission members peppered Scheler with questions about how the thrift store would operate, it was Ward 2 Alderman Jim Kelleher, the panel's aldermanic representative, who raised the issue of economic benefits to the city.

Kelleher asked if sales tax would be charged on purchases made at the Sal-vation Army thrift store.

Scheler said, "No, in Missouri it is free of sales tax.''

Kelleher said, "So it's tax exempt.''

Scheler said, "Tax exempt.''

Kelleher said, "So Crestwood being a primarily sales-tax driven city will receive no benefit from your location?''

Scheler said, "Oh, they receive a lot of benefit. They just wouldn't receive the tax dollars, but there would be a lot of — we anticipate about maybe 300 customers a day coming through that store, on the average.

"So there's a lot of movement,'' he said, noting that thrift store customers then would patronize nearby businesses.

Kelleher later said, "... If I'm overstepping my bounds, please tell me, but I'm just trying to get a feel for your location. Does the Salvation Army typically receive a free rent situation with a retail location like this ...''

Scheler replied that the Salvation Army would pay rent on a monthly basis for the location.

At another point, Kelleher asked, "Have you ever talked to any of our neighbors regarding placement of a store, our adjacent municipalities — Webster, Kirkwood or Sunset or any of those places?''

Deborah Nelson of the Lechner Realty Group, who represents the Salvation Army in seeking locations for new thrift stores, said, "I know that we haven't located any in surrounding areas. However, I've had conversations with Kirkwood about a couple of locations and the preliminary notion was that that would be fine ...''

During the commission's discussion of the Salvation Army's request, member Pat Kapsar said she was "concerned'' about the proposal.

"That whole entire area has never been a very thriving area and I don't know that a thrift shop is going to be the best thing for it,'' she said. "The other concern I have is — and I understand that the store has the potential for bringing, No. 1 of hiring people from our area and bringing increased traffic in for other businesses — but there is a concern on my part the fact that we're looking at a non-tax-producing entity when we're really struggling financially in this city ...''

Commission member Jim Wright agreed with Kapsar's concerns about the the fact that the thrift store would not generate sales-tax revenue for the city.

While the Salvation Army is "a wonderful organization,'' commission member Christopher Pickel said he agreed with Kapsar and Wright.

"... Given our situation and our pretty heavy reliance on the retail tax dollar, is this is the best use for a facility within the city and that's what I'm struggling with,'' Pickel said.

Commission member Steve Knarr said he had a hard time justifying allowing a non-tax-producing tenant given the city's financial woes.

"Other than that, I really don't have an issue with it being the Salvation Army or it being a thrift store. I don't think that's as critical as the lost revenue, in my opinion,'' Knarr said.

After further discussion, Knarr made a motion to recommend denial of the Sal-vation Army's request "based on the economic hardship it would cause the city.''

Public Works Director Jim Eckrich said, "I think if you're going to deny it, you have to deny it based on one of the five factors ... I think the one I'm hearing is the adverse effect on the character of the surrounding commercial uses ...''

Knarr said, "Or the (adverse effect on the) general welfare of the community ... I think that's more appropriate, Jim.''

He added, "So I guess I would change my motion to deny based on an adverse effect on the general welfare of the community.''

Kapsar seconded Knarr's motion.

"Well, it's hard because it's a little bit kind of like you're against motherhood and apple pie because the Salvation Army does a wonderful thing for the community ...,'' Kapsar said.

The timing of the proposal was not the best, Vice Chairman David Boll said, noting three retailers closed in the last month.

It would be different if three new businesses were opening, he added.

Kelleher said, "... Dave, I think you're right and the mayor (Tom Fagan) and I have talked about this and I've talked about it with several aldermen and nobody denies the great work that the Salvation Army does.

"And we're certainly not opposed to their organization, but we just feel that the timing is completely wrong for us right now.

1984 through a cooperative effort between city officials and the city's business community, according to information provided last week to the Planning and Zoning Com-mission. The plan established strategies to enhance the appearance and function of Watson Road.

The Watson Road Development Plan was updated in 1998 to reflect the implementation of the original plan's recommendations and to incorporate new strategies.

During the Jan. 5 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, Ellen Dailey, the city's economic development specialist, noted that PGAV had completed a draft amendment to the plan last February and outlined the process that will be followed to update the plan.

Besides the two public meetings to solicit input, comments from members of the Board of Aldermen will be sought during their Jan. 25 meeting.

After obtaining public input and comments from aldermen, city staff will present a revised draft of the updated plan to the Planning and Zoning Commission during a public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 2, at the Government Center.

"We're hoping that at the following public hearing in February — this is basically a minor update to the existing plan — we're hoping to be able to move forward with adoption at that meeting as well,'' Dailey told the Planning and Zoning Com-mission.

Public Works Director Jim Eckrich said, "This is a little bit different than most of the issues that come before us because as opposed to recommending to the board, you'll actually be approving this ...''

In the draft amendment, five sites are identified as areas that require rehabilitation or redevelopment and contain existing improvements. Those sites are:

Watson Plaza — The Crestwood Board of Aldermen voted last August to approve legislation relating the redevelopment of the Watson Plaza shopping center. G.J. Grewe Inc. is proposing a PETCO and a new Walgreens on the site of the vacant Tippin's restaurant as well as retaining the center's existing tenants.

The Walnut Park Auto Body property — This site "continues to exhibit conditions that detract from the aesthetic appearance of the site as well as the Watson Road Corridor,'' the draft update states.

Six properties, including the Meineke Muffler repair shop — This site contained two properties in the 1998 Amendment and now contains six. Besides Meineke Muffler, the site includes two multi-tenant retail centers, two residential properties and a vacant lot.

The former Circuit City Shopping Center — This site contains seven parcels including the vacant Circuit City location and adjoining strip mall, Coldwell Banker Gundaker Realty, Mattress Giant, the former Magna Visual location, Pier 1 Im-ports and the Forest View Apartments.

Two parcels, including the Value City Department Store and the Creston Center — The small parcel comprises two small retail buildings with small-retail tenants and is known as Creston Center. The large parcel contains a "big-box" retail building currently occupied by a Value City De-partment Store and a multi-tenant "strip" retail building.

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