Committee sends condo plan back to planning panel
October 12, 2005 - By LAURA UHLMANSIEK
A proposal to build a condominium complex at the site of the former St. John's Elementary School last week was sent back to the county Planning Commission for ma-jor revisions.
Despite pleas from Mehlville Board of Education President Rita Diekemper and Superintendent Tim Ricker, the County Council's Public Improvements Committee voted unanimously Oct. 4 to send Great-er Missouri Builders' proposal back to the Planning Commission, saying the plan is inappropriate for the site at the corner of Will Avenue and Lemay Ferry Road.
The panel's action further delays the Mehlville School District's sale of the property to Greater Midwest Builders.
Greater Midwest Builders is purchasing the 5.85-acre site from the Mehlville School District, but the sale is contingent on several factors, including the zoning change that would allow the company to build multifamily condominiums.
"We have to maintain that building, we have to pay for the utilities of that building," Diekemper told committee members Oct. 4. "It is a major expense for our school district. We are already in such a tight budget situation that our children don't have adequate textbooks. So it would be imprudent of us and irresponsible for us, and we would not be fulfilling our fiduciary responsibility to those children if we allowed a site to sit there, which is quite frankly a financial drain on the district, and produces no use for us."
The Planning Commission in July recommended approval of Greater Missouri Builders' request for a zoning change from the R-4 7,500-Square-Foot Residence Dis-trict to the R-7 1,750-Square-Foot Resi-dence District. The complex would have six buildings with a total of 104 condominium units and two parking spaces per condominium.
The Planning Commission's rezoning recommendation was introduced at the Aug. 2 County Council meeting and Chairman John Campisi, R-south county, asked that the request be filed and referred to the Public Improvements Committee for further consideration.
The proposal has been opposed by nearby residents, who said the four-story buildings of the complex do not belong next to single-family homes and that the complex will increase traffic on an al-ready-dangerous street.
Residents had filed a notice of protest in September to halt the rezoning protest, but the Planning Commission said the notice of protest was invalid because it did not have the required number of signatures.
Ricker spoke in favor of the proposal, saying the complex would be appropriate when considering the commercial zoning along Lemay Ferry Road, would be an asset to the community as affordable senior citizen housing and would bring business to local vendors. He also said the complex would generate additional property tax revenue.
"Being a resident of the county as well, I'm not just doing this from a professional standpoint, I think it would be good for the community," Ricker said.
Mehlville originally planned to build a new early childhood center, now called the John Cary Early Childhood Center, at the St. John's campus site, but instead the center was 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.
"When we wished to put a early childhood center on that location, we found it to be — to do the things that we needed to do to that site to prepare for an early childhood center, we found that to be cost-prohibitive and quite frankly, aesthetically not pleasing, once we put some site plans together," Ricker told committee members.
The site of the proposed condominium complex has a steep incline. The area closest to nearby residents is high and then the property drops so that the section adjacent to Lemay Ferry Road is about 20 feet below the road's surface with a retention wall for support along the road.
Sue Millinger, who lives on Will Avenue next to the proposed site, opposed the developer's plan to build four four-story buildings on the higher ground right next to her house. The plan calls for a three-story building and two four-story buildings on the lower level.
"My biggest opposition is the way this building is going to look and overshadow our neighborhood," Millinger said.
Lisa Pannett, who also lives near the site, said she was concerned about the traffic on Will Avenue and how the proposed complex would increase traffic, putting school children who walk along Will Avenue at greater risk.
"When you're talking about endangering kids because of tax revenue and because the school district is going to get money, I have a problem with that."
Campisi, who is not a member of the Public Improvements Committee, echoed the concerns of his constituents who live near the site, and made several recommendations at the committee meeting. He said he would like see a revised plan with a detention basin, a reduction in condo units and more detailed information about lighting and buffers between the complex and the single-family homes. He also said he would like to see a traffic study done on the area.
"I think the Planning Commission might be able to work something out with the developer and possibly come up with a better development than we have right now," Campisi said.
Councilman Skip Mange, R-Town and Country, who serves on the Public Im-provements Committee, said that his first inclination was to reject the proposal be-cause he saw several problems regarding zoning and design. He pointed out that the area surrounding the proposed site is R-4, and that the developer wants the zoning changed from R-4 to R-6.
"They are jumping four zoning categories. That's a huge jump in density and zoning. Good zoning practice tells you to screen residential from commercial with higher density, that's a generally accepted practice," Mange said.
He recommended building attached villas on the higher ground near the single-family residences and building the taller buildings on the lower section.
"I agree that we should send it back, I would ask that careful consideration be given, and I think the school district is right in trying to sell the property," Mange said. "You need to sell the property, but it needs to be a development that is consistent with the neighborhood. It needs to be a development that will give you the rate of return you need, and the builder the rate of return he needs."