October 17, 2018

City council approves garage extension, with caveats

Webster Groves City Council unanimously approved Bill 8806 allowing Webster University to build a five-story parking garage extension if the university also constructs a left-turn lane at Edgar Road and Garden Avenue. University and city officials have been debating for months over which instituion will fund the left-turn lane.

At the August 20 city council meeting, councilmembers and university officials reached a tipping point. Webster Groves city officials, including councilmembers Kathy Hart, Anne Tolan and Greg Mueller believe the university should pay for the project. Webster University Chief Financial Officer Greg Gunderson questioned the fairness of the bill at the August 20 city council meeting and said he believes ‘city and public dollars’ should pay for the project.

Webster University Attorney Traci Pupillo said the parking garage is not affecting traffic congestion at the two-lane intersection.

“We should only have to pay for issues associated with what we’re doing, and this is not the case,” Pupillo said.

Webster University Director of Facilities Craig Miller said the university is constructing a second plan to build a smaller parking garage somewhere on campus should the university decide not to pay for the left-turn lane.

Gunderson said there is no decision on when the parking garage will break ground, and no decision has been reached on whether the university will pay for the left-turn lane.

“That is a decision we will have to review with our board of trustees,” Gunderson said.

The garage extension was originally scheduled to begin construction during summer 2013.

Multiple Webster Groves residents, such as Don Land, endorsed the parking garage. He said the city council should consider alternate options, rather than having the university construct a left-turn lane.

“I see this as a real obstacle to Webster University. They don’t have the land for it. I don’t think it’s necessary. I think there is a real easy solution,” Land said.

Webster Groves resident Dave Buck said he was frustrated the parking garage extension is being held up by a decision on the left-turn lane. Buck said the city council should trust the university and consider a left-turn light signal as a test. Buck also said the city council should consider splitting the cost of building the left-turn lane.

“We butt heads, because we all act like butt heads. We are better than this. We all need to wake up, make up, shake hands, move forward together for the entire community because if we don’t, we all lose. And I fear the negative consequences will be greater than we ever imagine,” Buck said.

Webster University junior Danielle Cullicutt said parking is not an issue at certain times of the day, but is a campus problem.

“When I left to come back at, like 12, there were no spots at all in the parking garage,” Calicutt said.

Claire Mueller, a junior at Webster University, expressed the same concern with the lack of parking spaces when the garage is full.

“I don’t even know where to go (if the garage is full),” Mueller said.

During the city council meeting on September 3, Mayor Gerry Welch obtained a letter, which Gunderson sent out to businesses that are partners of the university. Welch expressed concern to Gunderson over where the funds for the left-turn lane will come.

“If you take one dollar from one bucket, it has to come from somewhere else. I didn’t say it would come from any specific bucket. I said it was a concern of mine to discover a way to fund the project,” Gunderson said.

Welch addressed the concerns over fears of the public, which could view the council’s actions toward the university as underappreciated.

“That is not the position of this council. Repeatedly you have heard from me and others that we do value this university. We believe it contributes to the community and we’ve been very supportive of the university,” Welch said.

In a July 2013 interview, Miller said the Metropolitan Sewer District asked the university to consolidate the parking garage and substation into one project. The university cannot further develop the campus until the substation is built. The construction of the substation will not affect the parking garage extension because the extension will require a low level of electricity.

Repertory Theatre Managing Director Mark Bernstein said construction for a left-turn lane would cause problems for people trying to access the theatre.

“There are other ways that this can be addressed other than widening the road,” Bernstein said.

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