September 27, 2016

Webster University braces for changes from proposed educational zoning

Webster University President Elizabeth Stroble warned of a possible halt to some master plan projects and campus expansion as a result of Webster Grove’s proposed educational zoning.

At a meeting on Sept. 2 the Webster Grove’s City Council will voted to end public hearings on the proposed zoning changes. If public hearings are voted to end, the council will vote on the proposed zoning on Sept. 18.

At a meeting called by university administration on Aug. 28, Stroble said the proposed zoning seemed to target the university and Eden, and that the  zoning felt like a wedge being driven between the two institutions.

“It isn’t just about buildings,” Stroble said.”Being told ‘you can’t cross Lockwood,’ that somehow there is a wall that can’t be crossed is really saying ‘we’re going to rezone you in a way that makes collaboration very difficult.’”

The proposed zoning code sets requirements for parking spaces and green space, property dimensions and accessory uses.  Thirty percent of the campus would have to be parking, and another 30 percent would be green space.

Stroble noted the timing of the proposed zoning changes as being strange. She theorized the zoning changes came as a result of the university and Eden’s lawsuit against the city.

“It also seems to us that the timing of considering these zoning regulations is peculiar to the fact that we did not quickly accept the decision that we could not use the property we purchased on Eden’s campus,” Stroble said.

Two meetings were called by administration to discuss what the implication of the city’s proposed educational zoning changes would have on the university, and to rally the university for the upcoming Sept. 2 City Council meeting. If passed, the proposed zoning would zone the city’s educational institutions into different categories, based on student population. A change that Stroble said, could kill Eden Theological Seminary and the university’s 40 year old relationship and hamper any future university growth.

Stroble said if the proposed zoning is passed, the requirement for parking and green space would impair any growth on campus. She said the Interdisciplinary Sciences Building would be impossible to construct, a main staple of the university’s 2012 master plan.

“It seems to me that our need to grow and develop and to thrive is at odds with the city’s leadership and orientation right now,” Stroble said.

Provost Julian Schuster said he does not believe the city council has effectively represented the wants of the city.

“For every five of those (in favor of zoning,) you have 55 for the opposition,” Schuster said.

Stroble cited a survey Webster University released in October of 2013 during the meeting, stating 71 percent of the Webster Groves community thought the City Council was “out of step” with the wants of the city.

The university and seminary filed suit against the city of Webster Groves on Sept. 18, 2013. The institutions sought damages for what the institutions alleged to be the city’s unlawful decision to deny the university and Eden’s application to use buildings on Eden’s campus. On May 22, Judge Mark Seigel’s decision on the lawsuit ruled that Webster Groves had to approve use of the buildings purchased by the university.

Stroble said she and the university understand that zoning is important to city government, but zoning should benefit all members of the community.

“If you go to Webster you know we have a parking issue and a science building issue,” Stroble said.

Stroble listed the university’s concerns of timing, lack of collaboration with the institutions and costly ongoing delay of already approved projects. In the past, the city council has asked for the university to send in their master plan for review by the city. Stroble said blaming the university for not sending in the master plan was a red herring.

Student Government Association (SGA) Sergeant-at-arms Alex Bonney said SGA was at the university’s back and would be present at the next City Council meeting to support the university.

Schuster said he and other university supporters can only speculate as to why the city council continue to roadblock the college. He said when the university has asked this question, they have only received “disingenuous” answers.

If the educational zoning is passed, the university would still be allowed use of their purchased properties on Eden. Stroble said the CUPs would survive the zoning amendments. However, if Webster were to alter or make any additions to the buildings, they would risk losing those CUPs.

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