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Planning panel once again to consider Watson Road plan


April 27, 2005 - Adoption of a 2005 amendment to the Watson Road Commercial District Plan will be considered next week by the Crestwood Planning and Zoning Commission — provided all members are present.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 4, in the Aldermanic Chamber at the Crestwood Government Center, 1 Detjen Drive.

Public hearings on the proposed amendment were conducted by the commission Feb. 2 and April 6. Commission members also discussed the proposed amendment during a March 2 work session.

After the April 6 public hearing, Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Matt Green was ready to bring the proposed amendment to a vote, but was advised by City Attorney Rob Golterman that a vote could not be taken because two members were absent. Under state statute, the amendment can only be approved by a majority vote of the commission during a meeting at which all members are present.

The proposed update to the Watson Road Commercial District Plan, which is the city's comprehensive plan for the Watson Road business corridor, initially was formulated last year by the city's planning consultant, Peckham, Guyton, Albers & Viets. Based on public comments made during the Feb. 2 hearing, city staff further revised the proposal.

The Planning and Zoning Commission primarily is a recommending body. In this case, however, final approval of the proposed amendment to the Watson Road Commercial District Plan rests with the Planning and Zoning Commis-sion.

At the Feb. 2 public hearing, commission members re-quested more information from city staff and the city's planning consultant after hearing from representatives of two property owners in one of the areas identified as in need of rehabilitation or redevelopment — an 18.79-acre site that is comprised of two parcels at Watson and Grant roads. The larger of the two parcels contains Value City and is owned by Joe Grasso, while the smaller parcel, roughly one acre, contains the Creston Center and is owned by the Boegeman family's Crest Development Co.

Mary Schultz of Schultz and Little, an attorney representing the owners of the Creston Center, asked the Planning and Zoning Commission Feb. 2 to remove the building from the proposed amendment, noting that a substantial redevelopment of the center has been ongoing.

Grasso, two attorneys and a real estate broker addressed the commission Feb. 2 about the Value City site, contending the original amendment's recommended redevelopment as planned residential with a unified site plan would damage Grasso's efforts to redevelop the Value City site as a commercial property as well as harm Grasso financially.

A revised proposal discussed March 2 by the panel recommended the complete redevelopment of the site as a planned mixed-use development with a unified site plan incorporating both parcels. A combination of higher-density residential and non-residential uses would be considered appropriate, the proposal states.

During the April 6 public hearing, Schultz once again asked the Planning and Zoning Commission to exclude the Creston Center site from the proposed amendment.

Saying she felt like John Wayne, Schultz pledged a legal battle if the Creston Center is not excluded from the plan.

"... I started out my comments a couple months ago when the commission met on the importance of the city plan to the future of the city of Crestwood and I want to underscore that again. The Planning Commission adopts a city plan. It doesn't simply make a recommendation for a city that gets adopted by the Board of Aldermen. The city plan designates your recommendation, based upon your special expertise, on what the future of the city of Crestwood, what the future land uses should be,'' Schultz said.

"The plan is not a redevelopment plan and that was mentioned a couple of times at the commission's meeting last month. But the plan, although it's actually implemented by the Board of Aldermen, the board is most vulnerable legally and politically if it doesn't follow the city plan,'' she continued. "So what this commission decides as to what should be included and what should be excluded in the city plan is very important. It is very clear that this commission can both have its cake and it eat too. There was an interest expressed last month that the Creston Center should be included for the reason that the Creston Center itself should be — or it is the intention of this commission that it be preserved, but there should be cross access or some other type of incorporation of the Creston Center in any redevelopment of the southeast corner of Watson and Grant.

"I can represent to you as the attorney for Crest Development Co. that Crest will work with the developers for a redevelopment of the remaining 17 acres. The Creston Center does not need to be included as an area of interest in the city plan in order to accomplish that objective of the Planning Commission,'' she said. "In so doing, you will effectively exclude the Creston Center as a target for redevelopment and ultimately for eminent domain by the Board of Aldermen and by the city for redevelopment of that area.''

Schultz later said, "... Has Crest Development fought City Hall? Crest believes that it has made a substantial investment in and commitment to Crestwood and if allowing the city to take its property for an outside developer like Mills apartment project, Crest Development will fight. I feel — again I feel like John Wayne, it's not a threat, it's just fact. You haven't seen anything yet. If the city moves forward with targeting the Creston Center for redevelopment ... there will be a fight. This commission could stop right now and say our vision, our future vision for Crestwood does not include a taking of the Creston Center or a redevelopment of the Creston Center. The Creston Center is a success story. It's been a private redevelopment without public subsidies at a time when really the city of Crestwood cannot afford it.

"The Creston Center is now a first-class trophy for the city and serves proudly as the eastern gateway to Crestwood ...,'' she said, adding that if the Creston Center is a further target for redevelopment, Crest Development "will resist that.''

Schultz also was critical of some of the news coverage of the Creston Center, telling commission members how she believed the "real story'' of the center should have been reported.

"Some of the news coverage of the fight that the Creston Center has had for the last couple of years has been very disappointing. We believe that the news coverage has consistently missed the major story, harboring red herrings instead of the real stories. The real story is that the residents of Crestwood insist on fiscal responsibility by the city of Crestwood, that the residents of Crestwood don't want an apartment project for the area southeast of Watson and Grant, that there be no irresponsible use of public subsidies for private redevelopment when it's not necessary, that there be no abuse by the city of Crestwood of eminent domain to take property by eminent domain to put it in the hands of an outside developer.

"The story that should be reported is a success story for the city of Crestwood. Instead, it has not been reported. The Creston Center is attracting business to Crestwood when the city needs new business. Yet the Creston Center is attracting business not with the help of the city, but in spite of the city ...,'' she said, reiterating her request to exclude the Creston Center from the proposed plan.

Ward 3 Alderman Don Maddox also addressed the Planning and Zoning Commission, noting the improvements that have been made by Crest Development and questioning the wisdom of including the site in the 2005 amendment to the Watson Road Commercial District plan.

"... From what I've observed about Creston Center in the last three years, that they have greatly improved their property and greatly improved it to the point where at least that they meet most of our ordinances and our requirements with regard to that particular property. In fact, it's been made into a relatively attractive property at this point and I don't know that including Creston Center in this proposal is a good idea ...,'' Maddox said.

But resident David Brophy told commission members he believed the Creston Center should be included in the proposed amendment.

"... It seems to me that if this is excluded from the plan that what we have, in essence, is the tail wagging the dog and I personally would like to see the Watson/Grant redevelopment to continue,'' Brophy said.

"I know that citizens are complaining about the lack of redevelopment of the Watson corridor and so on. I commend Mr. Boegeman for his efforts taken after he was informed that his property would possibly be taken from him. But nonetheless, I think that for the future of the city it is imperative that such property remain as part of the plan,'' he added.

Schultz also contended that Mills Properties was receiving preferential treatment from city staff members, citing a Feb. 3 letter from Richard Robinson of CB Richard Ellis Inc.

The Board of Aldermen previously had issued two requests for proposals to redevelop the 18.79-acre site at the southeast corner of Grant and Watson that includes the Creston Center and the Value City property.

In response to the city's original request for proposals issued in April 2002, two proposals were submitted — one from the Jones Co. and one from Mills Properties. The Jones Co. later withdrew its proposal and the Board of Aldermen voted in March 2003 to name Mills Properties as the preferred developer of the site. Mills had proposed a $37.1 million development that would include about 240 luxury apartment units and 19 luxury condominiums.

Mills Properties submitted the only response to the city's second request for proposals, but the city officials later declared a moratorium on redevelopment, withdrawing all RFPs issued by the city.

"CB Richard Ellis Inc. has represented Bruce Mills and Mills Properties from the start of its pursuit of the Watson/Grant redevelopment project. We are currently negotiating with Mr. Grasso and with Value City to secure key real-estate interests necessary for this project,'' Robinson wrote in the letter to the city's economic development specialist, Ellen Dailey.

In the letter, Robinson asked about a timetable that would include a March 1 commencement of the RFP process, the possibility of tax abatement and other tax tools, and the "possibility of eminent domain only for the Creston Center property.''

Dailey countered that city staff has not given any preferential treatment to Mills, citing her Feb. 8 response to Robinson, which stated, "At this time, the city has not received any proposal for redevelopment of the subject property nor is city staff aware of the scope of any future planned project at this location ... In particular, the Board of Aldermen has not received a request for nor has discussed eminent domain as it relates to this property.''

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