September 16, 2019

Webster Groves City Council to restrict university expansion

By Collin Reischman

Webster Groves City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday, Jan. 18 in favor of an ordinance addressing zoning codes that will affect the planned expansion of Webster University at Eden Theological Seminary.
The ordinance places restrictions on any non-residential buildings constructed in residential areas of the city. John Hessel, attorney for the university, called the ordinance a “necessary step in clarifying the rules of construction and expansion in Webster Groves.”
Concerns arose among council members and residents of Webster Groves when the university purchased more than five acres of land from Eden on E. Lockwood Avenue. Residents worried that any physical expansion of the Luhr Library — part of the property now owned by Webster — would be detrimental to the appearance of the community by placing a large brick building in close proximity to the road.
“Webster University and Eden do not have the right to change the face of our community,” said Webster Groves resident Janet Pirozzi, addressing the council.
Pirozzi cited the 2003 university master plan, which details the specific intentions of any physical construction or expansion of the university. The plan indicated that, as of 2003, Webster would not seek to expand the campus north of Lockwood Ave.
“The entrance to our community will change drastically,” Pirozzi said. “We cannot allow non-profits to dictate the future of our community.”
Council members cited the construction of the Nerinx Hall Theatre on Big Bend Road. Residents opposed the building’s large, brick appearance and the proximity to the busy road.
Karen Luebbert, vice president and executive assistant to the president at Webster, plans to begin reworking the university master plan immediately.
Residents hope that any further expansion will not take place within the city of Webster Groves itself.
“This isn’t going to hurt (Webster University),” said Webster Groves resident Maggie Sowash. “They are welcome to expand anywhere they want, but they don’t have to be right in our backyard.”
Sowash and Pirozzi stressed the important of maintaining the appearance of Webster Groves as a community, and protecting wildlife, trees and open space within the city limits.
The new ordinance protects residents from expansion of large buildings in close proximity to the street, as well as establishing more precise language on building setbacks.
“This process is a result of our deal with Eden,” Hessel said. “We found that the language in the city ordinances was not clear on setbacks or expansions, so we clarified the language with the council. We want to play by the rules, but the rules need to be as clear as possible.”

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