September 29, 2016

Residents, supporters of university and Eden voice opinions on proposed educational zoning changes

PHOTO BY MEGAN FAVIGNANO/ The Journal

Webster Groves resident John Reed, father of Webster University Professor Beckah Reed, spoke at the City Plan Commission meeting on Feb. 3. He said the proposed zoning changes would be “putitng a dagger in Eden’s stomach.”

Webster Grove residents and supporters of Webster University and Eden Theological Seminary voiced their opinions on cities proposed zoning changes that could affect Webster University’s expansion.

During the hearing on Feb. 3, Webster Groves resident Dave Buck said Webster University and Eden Theological Seminary should do the “courageous” thing and drop the lawsuit against the city.

The university and seminary filed suit against the City of Webster Groves on Sept. 18. The university and seminary are seeking damages for what the institutions allege to be the city’s unlawful decision to deny the university and Eden’s application to use buildings on Eden’s campus.

Webster University Chief Financial Officer Greg Gunderson said if the city were to withdraw their ruling on the denial, the university would have no need to proceed with their lawsuit.

“If the city wants to change its position and withdraw their ruling, there wouldn’t be a need for a lawsuit. So, the university is pursuing the only opportunity that is available to us to address a ruling we don’t believe treats a vacant property in the best interest of the community or the institution,” Gunderson said. “The ball is in the city’s court.”

The Webster Groves City Plan Commission voted on Monday to continue public hearings and postpone the vote on an educational rezoning of the city. The board said it would need more time to gather information and discuss possible amendments to the proposed zoning code.

Webster Groves resident John Reed, father of Webster University Professor Beckah Reed, said while there is no simple solution to the educational rezoning, he said the rezoning would be the downfall of Eden. He stressed hampering the growth of any educational institution would be a bad move by the city.

“If you pass these ordinances… you’re going to put a dagger in the stomach of Eden, and I don’t think they will be able to make it under these circumstances,” Reed said. “I think Webster University will have a dagger in their heel.”

Gunderson urged the Plan Commission to table the proposed zoning changes so Webster University and Eden could have further conversations with the city about rezoning. He said the institutions and the city need to work through their differences to generate a “balanced, fair and appropriate zoning.”

Dean of University Libraries Laura Rein read a letter from Webster University President Elizabeth Stroble. If the rezoning were to be beneficial to the universities, Webster University would be in support of the proposed rezoning.

Eden Vice President of Institutional Advancement Bryce Krug presented a letter written by Eden President David Greenhaw. In the letter he wrote the rezoning would be another setback in the road the Eden’s “mission.”

“Again, Eden Seminary is looking at a rezoning that punishes us, harms our institutions, takes our property and places irrational restrictions on us,” Krug read. “Eden Seminary will take every means available to it to stop a rezoning that hurts us and damages our ability to accomplish our mission. None of this is what Eden wants.”

Webster Groves resident Peggy McAuliffe compared Webster University’s expansion to an “infestation.”  She said she has watched neighborhoods disappear in the past few decades.

“Webster University has infested residential neighborhoods; and I use that word not to offend, but by its meaning defined by to inhabit or overrun, in numbers large enough to be harmful or threatening,” McAullife said. “I keep wondering; when is the growing going to end?”

The next Plan Commision meeting is scheduled for Feb. 25.

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