October 17, 2018

Residents criticize city on lawsuit

At the Oct. 1 Webster Groves City Council meeting, residents questioned the Council about how things had progressed to the point that Webster University and Eden Theological Seminary would sue the city.

“This makes absolutely no sense to me,” said Webster Groves resident Pam Bliss. “There was a sale of property and for some reason the City Council isn’t allowing the buyer to use it entirely consistent with how it’s been used for the past 40 plus years, which is to support higher education.”

The university and Eden filed suit on Sept. 18. They alleged the city has unlawfully denied the university’s requests to use property it purchased from Eden in 2010. The university intends to use the property for university activities and office space and also to demolish one building to increase the green space at Lockwood Avenue.

The two parties hope the jury will reverse the Council’s decision to block access to the properties. If not, then the university and Eden will seek $5 million in damages — the amount the university paid for the property.

Residents at the meeting expressed concern that the City Council may be overlooking the historical use of the land. The university and Eden shared Luhr Library until 2003, when the university opened Emerson Library.

“It will actually result in fewer people using these facilities than in the past 40 years, when our students shared those facilities with Eden Seminary,” Associate Vice President of Foundation and Government Relations at Webster University Carolyn Corley said.

Webster Groves resident Dave Buck said that while he has problems with the university, this is an issue of fairness. Given the university’s historical and current use of land on Eden’s campus, Buck said the denial was unfair.
“It’s interesting… we always seem to skip over this. The Webster University religious studies department crossed Lockwood years ago, maybe decades ago,” Buck said. “With four professors, six adjunct professors and student classes all based in Eden Seminary’s Schultz Hall and you don’t seem worried about those guys. I wonder why?”

Paying the price
Bliss worries that in the end, Webster Groves residents will have to pay for what she believes to be the Council’s mistake in dealing with the university.

“As a Webster resident, why should we as taxpayers pay to defend a lawsuit that resulted from poor decision making,” Bliss said

Buck warned the Council that residents don’t expect the city to win the suit. He suggested the Council remedy the situation by apologizing to the university, then allow the university to use Eden’s land.

“The word on the street is that the city will lose big. I’m not making that up, and that residents will revolt if one penny is used to pay off legal damages,” Buck said. “You will have an uprising in this chamber if that happens.”
No one at the meeting spoke against the suit filed by the university and Eden.

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