November 15, 2018

City resolution could delay future construction

The Webster Groves City Council proposed a moratorium on issuing building or conditional use permits for colleges, universities and other educational facilities that own or lease five or more acres of property.

The moratorium would temporarily suspend any activity in the Webster University master plan. It would halt further campus development until the moratorium is lifted. If passed it will be in place for six months. If extended it would affect the following projects: the new student center, additional housing, an arts building and an athletics/recreation building.

If resolution 2013-33 passes at the Sept. 19 Webster Groves City Council meeting, Webster University will not be allowed to make new permit proposals for six months. Webster Groves Director of Planning and Development Mara Perry said the purpose of the moratorium is to evaluate changes to zoning ordinances.

“It’s an opportunity for us to talk through a number of issues with campus zoning, and to really put things in place that will both benefit the city and the university,” Perry said.

Webster University Chief Financial Officer Greg Gunderson said in a statement to The Journal, “We didn’t see the resolution until Monday afternoon, so we are evaluating the language, and are working with the board of trustees on what our next steps will be.”

The resolution will not affect permits that have already been issued or are currently being discussed. This means Webster University can continue with current projects. This includes the parking garage expansion and a new customer substation.

Webster Groves Mayor Gerry Welch said issues between the university and residents played a role in the decision to introduce a moratorium.

“It’s time for us to figure out how to make this work better for everyone,” Welch said.

Perry said there is a clause in resolution 2013-33 that could change the length of the moratorium, if necessary.

Welch said the city would continue to talk to educational institutions about zoning before the council decides how to handle the matter.

Webster University Director of Facilities Craig Miller said in a September 2013 interview that the university is considering other options to build a smaller parking garage somewhere on campus.

City Council passed a bill two weeks ago which gave Webster approval to build a five-story parking garage extension. The university can only build the garage if it also pays to build a left-turn lane at the intersection of Edgar Road and Garden Avenue.

University spokesman Patrick Giblin said university representatives, including himself, would attend the City Council meeting Thursday night.

The City of Webster Groves categorizes Webster University as a residential zoning district. If the university plans to do any construction, they need to go through multiple procedures to obtain a conditional use permit or building permit.

If the City of Webster Groves categorizes the university as an educational zoning district, it will allow the university to do internal building without having to go through multiple procedures to get permission to build.

Qualifying Webster University as an educational zoning district would make the process easier for the university to obtain a conditional use or building permit.

Edgewood Children’s Center, a behavioral health organization in Webster Groves, is the first educational institution to try going through the educational zoning procedures.

Webster University already has conditional building permits to construct a substation, extend the Garden Plaza parking garage and the left-turn lane at Garden Avenue and Edgar Road.

Welch said the intent of the moratorium is not negative and the City Council still supports Webster University.

“This is really an attempt to find a clear and positive pathway for everyone,” Welch said.

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