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Wildwood P&Z gives approval to controversial, residential waterfall

A waterfall feature that has been in limbo for more than three years was recommended for approval by the Wildwood Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission on Nov. 16.

The waterfall sits on a nearly 60-acre tract owned by Tom and Karen Roberts in a wooded area off of Laurey Lane near the Wildwood-Chesterfield border. The land is located between the Babler Woods Subdivision and Babler State Park. The Roberts’ house sits about 150 feet away from the property line and even further from the nearest neighbor.

Since the water feature’s installation, Diane and David Hudson who live adjacent to the Roberts have claimed it to be a source of frustration and physical ailment.

“This is devastating for us,” Diane told the P&Z on May 6, 2019. “We are very healthy people. We have had no issues. (The) first week it was turned on in May of 2017, I became sick that weekend.”

Her comments are representative of accusations the Hudsons have made and Roberts has rebuffed over the past three years.

However, last December, following extensive testing of the water by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Wildwood’s Director of Planning and Parks Joe Vujnich, told the P&Z that Lynn Milberg, water quality monitoring section chief from the environmental services program of MDNR, had found “no clear threat” from the waterfall.

At that same time, he recommended the water in the nearly 3.5-acre water feature be pre-treated to control algae blooms. The benefit of that action, he said, would not be limited to Robert’s neighbors, but also the Roberts and their animals. P&Z left the method of treatment to the discretion of Roberts but set its maximum cost at $1,000. Additionally, P&Z agreed to review the condition of the waterfall in December 2020, at which time a conditional use permit (CUP) for its continued operation could be granted if the P&Z so warranted.

That time has now arrived.

While many of the conditions have been met, there are two outstanding issues, Vujnich told the commission on Nov. 16. One is for pre-treatment of the water, which also requires an engineer’s seal and signature so that it is in accordance with MSD standards. The second is for permits relative to the pumping system associated with the waterfall structure.

Waterfall feature on the property of Tom and Karen Roberts in Wildwood
Waterfall feature on the property of Tom and Karen Roberts in Wildwood

At the same meeting, attorney Henry Elster, representing the Hudsons, requested that the commission deny the CUP and that it be conditioned on the receipt and review of signed and sealed engineering documents. In addition, he asked that all pre-treatment conditions be followed and that in the interim, the waterfall feature not be operated until due diligence is followed, including permitting and inspections from governmental entities.

Elster said it is his understanding that the water feature was installed without all the proper permits – electrical, plumbing and geothermal.

“I can personally attest to the sound and the odor that emanate from that,” he said of the feature. “Many neighboring property owners have felt the same way.”

Elster said there has been a limited amount of testing done with respect to the water, particularly regarding the depth of the water as it relates to some of the pipes, which are much deeper down. The one test that was done on the surface contained pollutants, he said.

Elster said the Hudsons believe Roberts has not cooperated with the commission’s directives, or with inspectors from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, St. Louis County or Wildwood.

“This has been going on for 3 ½ years,” Roberts responded. “There has been extensive testing. There were four sound tests; they were all below the limits of the Wildwood code. There were two water quality tests, acceptable by the consultant Wildwood hired.” 

“I’ve complied with the city of Wildwood and the requests. I had it (waterfall) off and then when the P&Z Commission did come out, it had been sitting with water in that pipe for months. When it runs for maintenance purposes, there’s absolutely no smell.”

Roberts said the city issued him an occupancy permit to live there with the waterfall in place and then, months later, came back requesting a CUP. Even though he already has an occupancy permit, he said he cooperated and went through all the steps.

At the heart of the matter before the P&Z was a difference in pre-treating systems. Vujnich said he was seeking direction from the P&Z on how to proceed regarding the pre-treatment requirement suggested by the city engineer, which would include a bio-retention basin to take pollutants out of the water. Roberts said he already has an engineer-approved pre-treatment system in place using straw wattles placed prior to the water inlet and at various areas around the lake.

Mayor Jim Bowlin motioned that Roberts could sign an affidavit stating the pre-treatment approved by his engineer is as good or better than what the city engineer has proposed. The motion also continues Roberts’ obligation to conduct water testing, spending up to $1,000 annually as was previously approved, and for the P&Z to revisit the issue in a year if there’s inconclusive evidence of any health issues.

Vujnich said he would continue to work with Roberts on obtaining proof of the electrical and plumbing permits. With that, the commission unanimously approved the CUP per the motion.

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