July 18, 2019

Webster Groves City Plan Commission delays Webster University’s proposed expansion for master plan due to ‘vague intentions’ with property

Webster University will resubmit its proposal to expand to parts of Eden Theological Seminary on May 6 after the proposal was postponed at Webster Groves City Plan Commission on Monday, April 1. The plan commission deemed Webster didn’t provide enough information regarding parking and building usage.

The commission also said the university was too vague about its intentions for Luhr Library. The university said it hoped to acquire these properties for the master plan through a conditional use permit (CUP). CUPs consider uses for a property of which the property wasn’t originally zoned.

Webster Groves residents and city were also concerned with parking around the university area, as the proposed expansions would increase traffic and parking needs.

Representing Webster University was Mara Perry, Webster Groves planning and development director, and Jerry Carmody, a lawyer speaking on behalf of the university.

“Our objective was to put to use buildings that have been vacant for several years,” Carmody said.

Eleven Webster Groves residents spoke against the proposed expansion. Nobody outside of Carmody and Mara spoke in support of the university. One resident, Peggy McAuliffe, of the 30 block of Joy Avenue, feels the university has not been honest with the community about ownership of the properties around Eden, and the intentions the university has for these buildings.

“Had I known then what Mr. Carmody has disclosed to us now, my husband and I wouldn’t have put the investment that we did into our home,” McAuliffe said. “And I think he clearly demonstrated why the residents are so very concerned, frightened and distrustful.”

Webster University proposed its expansion in three parts.

—Part One: Webster University would occupy Luhr Library, located next to Eden Seminary, and use it for office and administrative space. The university wanted to have 40-50 employees working in the 38,000-acre space approximately 35,000-square feet of space. The board said the university’s intentions for the building were too vague. It also said the building is too big to only serve administrative and office purposes.

—Part Two: The university would like to tear down the house located at 411 E. Lockwood Avenue, named the “White House,” and use it for green space and landscaping.

—Part Three: The university said it would like to use the Wehrli Center, located at 4 Joy Ave., and use it for alumni affairs. This building was to have offices and meeting rooms for alumni and faculty.

“We appreciate the chance that the planning commission allows for people to bring forward their opinions, and that we were able to bring our CUP forward,” said Webster University Chief Financial Officer Greg Gunderson. “We appreciate that we have an opportunity to come back to the table in a month and hopefully address what questions were raised.

“And that’s one of the great things about a process like this, that you have an opportunity to understand what people’s concerns are and hopefully address them in a productive way.”

Maggie Sowash, of the 20 block of Joy Avenue, expressed concerns during the public hearing portion of the meeting.

“Eden and Webster University never fail to disappoint me,” Sowash said at the meeting. “We have now been discussing the issue of Webster University crossing Lockwood for three years.”

Sowash attended several of the Webster Groves City Council meetings last summer and fall that discussed Ordinance 8753, which placed restrictions on who Eden can lease land to. Webster University crossing Lockwood has been an area of tension between the university and the community.

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