Neighbors unhappy with condo plans
May 18, 2005 - Residents near Mehlville Senior High School are upset with plans to redevelop the former St. John's Elementary School campus at Will Avenue and Lemay Ferry Road into condominiums.
They say more traffic will spark more accidents at an already congested intersection. Plus, they wonder who will move into their neighborhood.
"It's not government housing. There's no HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) funding in this project at all," Ron Nelson of Greater Missouri Builders told residents at an informational meeting last week. "We think it would be an attractive — we think it's the sort of housing that this area hasn't had for a long time and it would be beneficiary."
The company contracted with the Mehl-ville School District to purchase the 5.85-acre property for $1.1 million, but the sale is contingent on a zoning change to allow the construction of 128 condos. A request for a zoning change is pending before the county Planning Commission, a recommending body for the County Council.
The condos haven't been valued, but Nelson said they'd cost at least $130,000. His plan calls for 128 two-bed, two-bath, 1,150-square-foot condos in eight buildings, each with an elevator.
But residents are more concerned about the 192 parking spaces, particularly be-cause the complex wouldn't be accessible from Lemay Ferry Road. Nelson plans to widen Will Avenue with a 150-foot-long turn lane. Residents say it won't help.
"I put in a circle driveway because I can't get in and out of my driveway because of the traffic now," said Vicki Landwehr, who's lived on Will Avenue for 28 years. "You're going to put how many people there? And that's going to make it even worse ...
"If this goes in like this, I'm thinking of selling," she added. "We've had enough changes, and some of them aren't good. You start talking, you know, government-subsidized. You know, you bring in the riffraff that we don't need here ... We have families that are established. We have roots here. We have things that we like. We have things that we don't like that we can't change, but this is something that I don't think any of us like."
Nelson assured everyone the condos were not government-subsidized, low-in-come housing.
"This is a conventionally financed, private-developer project where we're building units for sale," he said.
"We need to do something with traffic regardless of what happens with this," said Kevin George. "I wouldn't be totally against this if they had access to Lemay Ferry."
The complex wouldn't have access from Lemay Ferry, Nelson said, because it would be too close to the stoplight at Will Avenue.
Council Chairman John Campisi, R-south county, also was on hand to take heat from residents, who wanted him to stop Greater Missouri Builders there and then.
"I'm here to listen to what everybody has to say and I'm here to listen to what they have to say also. I'm not here to make judgment," he said. "There's all kind of things that I've stopped already, all kind of apartments, all kinds of projects, all because people have showed up at the planning commission meeting and voiced their opinion.
"You're having a meeting here because the school is wanting to sell their property," he continued. "I'm sure they've gone through a lot of request for proposals and they chose the one that they felt best suited for the area. You need to work with the school as far as traffic. You would need to work with the developer ... come to the planning commission meeting if you want to voice your concerns. There's a process that the whole thing goes through. It's not just, 'John, I don't want the development here.'
"I'm here to listen to everybody," Camp-isi said. "The school really wants to get rid of the property. What's best for the piece of property there? To just say stop it, I can't do that right now. I want to listen to both sides. I think that's only fair for the school, the developer and yourselves."
The St. John's campus originally was to be the site of the school district's new early childhood center, now called the John Cary Early Childhood Center, which is being built on the Beasley Elementary School campus.
The location was changed after administrators cited budgetary, site-development, access, safety and aesthetic concerns about the St. John's site. The early childhood center is the final new building that will be constructed under the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program.
Voters in November 2000 approved Prop-osition P, a nearly $68.4 million bond issue funded by a 49-cent tax-rate increase.
However, the Board of Education voted in November to approve a revised Propo-sition P budget of $88,927,440.
"One thing that appealed to us when we voted for the (Prop P) bond issue was that the preschool was going to be located at St. John's property," Sally Landro said. "Every-one felt very comfortable with that. Then the school district gets the bond issue passed, and then all the sudden the property isn't feasible for the plan ... It's a little unfair. We weren't allowed to walk away from Prop P because it wasn't the right site. We thought we were still going to have our comfortable little neighborhood with a preschool and that's kind of an atmosphere that we're used to."
"We found that it was going to cost us a half a million or more to tear down the old building and develop that site, and those types of site costs would have put us way beyond budget," said Randy Charles, Mehlville assistant superintendent and the district's chief financial officer. "We would not have been able to build the early childhood building on that site ... We just didn't have those detailed analysis before Prop P because we didn't have the money to pay somebody to do all the soil testing and all the real detailed (analysis) we would have liked to had. It'd been great if we would have known before hand, but all we can do now is tell you the truth now and move on."
"That's why I'm afraid about this situation is that all the decisions or going to be made and later on you're going to say, 'Oh actually ...," Landro said.
Charles noted that Greater Missouri Builders will have to meet a list of contingencies to get the Planning Commission's recommendation followed by the council's approval.