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Ellisville church redevelopment receives second public hearing, vote postponed

By: Jessica Meszaros

The Ellisville City Council chambers, another meeting room and an overflow room were filled to capacity on July 18 for a public hearing regarding the petition of Shawneetown Capital, LLC to rezone the vacant First Baptist Church of Ellisville site from R-1 Single-Family Residential to C-5 Planned District Commercial.

The petition seeks to section the church property, located at 1283 Vero Lane and 55 Clarkson Road, into three different commercial lots, with an existing fourth lot on Vero Lane remaining a stormwater detention facility to service the main property. A drive-through Panda Express restaurant at the corner of Vero Lane and Clarkson Road; a 6,300-square-foot Tidal Wave car wash with a convenience store, proposed to have liquor sales, a gas station and an attached drive-through restaurant; and a new 78,469 square-foot self-storage facility are proposed for the other three lots.

The recommendations from the Planning & Zoning Commission [P&Z] as well as previous traffic consultant recommendations, were carried over for council consideration following a previous discussion on July 11. Changes included adding a designated right-turn lane from Clarkson Road, the development of a shared through/right-turn lane, added signage to Marsh Avenue and more. Should the weekday afternoon southbound queue become unacceptable, the applicant would incur the cost associated with analyses and creation of a coordination plan along Clarkson Road to secure MoDOT’s approval for any needed signal or phase changes. A dedicated right-turn lane would be installed along Froesel Road in addition to the widening of the radii at the southwest and northwest corners of Froesel and Clarkson Road.

For some residents, traffic remains an ongoing concern.

“I hate the idea that we’re going to allow businesses in our city that allow roads to cut into residential roads,” resident and former councilmember Mick Cahill said.

Some residents and councilmembers also cited grading and stormwater concerns, especially regarding flooding in nearby residential neighborhoods that may result from the current development filling or relocating the property’s existing swales to another location on the parcel.

According to Victoria Hookland, a Vero Lane resident, the existing swales have helped control the watershed problem on Vero Lane.

“We already have enough water on Vero Lane,” Hookland said. “We don’t need anymore. Truthfully, I hope the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District [MSD] takes this into consideration. If this goes commercial, we have to do it in a more responsible manner versus the way it’s presently being addressed.”

Hookland also stated that the proposed redevelopment was in conflict with the previously enacted Clarkson Meadows and Marsh Field Acres Preservation Overlay Districts, which were created to support the existing single-family residential character of the surrounding neighborhoods by preserving single-family residential uses and lot sizes. Special consideration was given for open space and requires complementary design characteristics and consistent setbacks, massing and building heights. The Clarkson Meadows Preservation Overlay District is identified as all properties zoned single-family residential on both sides of Vero Lane.

“This was created to preserve the area as a residential area and preserve a park-like setting. I question whether or not this proposal does this,” Hookland said. “We’re not opposed to growth, we’re simply opposed to the way it’s being presented.”

Shawneetown Capital, LLC stated they would comply with all MSD regulations for commercial rebuilds.

Other residents remained positive about the development’s commercial aspects and potential income for the city. Some also favored the redevelopment to get rid of a large, vacant lot alongside a major road.

“The longer that property sits vacant it becomes a draw for crime, and people think they can take what’s not theirs from the property,” resident Belinda Rhoads said. “… I know we’ve lost a couple restaurants lately, like The Greek Kitchen and Outback Steakhouse, and we don’t want to lose any more revenue.”

Resident and First Baptist church member John Kelli added, “I think progress happens when we develop an area wisely … We’ve seen houses in this city already on larger lots being torn down and rebuilt for a much higher value, increasing the values of everyone’s property.”

Hookland submitted a petition to City Attorney George Restovich with over 40 signatures in opposition of the church redevelopment. However, the submitted petition listed no addresses alongside the signatures; thus, the city must work with residents to determine the identities of the signers before moving forward. In order for a petition to be validated, it must be confirmed that 30 percent of the signatures are from property owners that live within 185 feet of the development.

The petition could mean the difference between a required majority or supermajority for a future vote on the development. As a result, the council opted 6-0 to postpone voting on the development until the petition’s signatures can be validated. Councilmember Bones Baker [District 2] was excused.

According to Restovich, the process could take eight days at minimum. Should the task be completed before the next scheduled city council meeting, a special council meeting would be called instead.

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