September 29, 2016

Crossfire at city council calls for change

Contributed by SGA President Gabrielle Deimeke

The Webster Groves City Council meeting on Sept. 2 was chaotic and tense. The public hearings room overflowed with people ready to speak in opposition to Bill 8851.

But despite the attendance of over 50 students, and a total of 75 speaker cards filled out, the council abruptly decided they would only hear from representatives from each school: Nerinx Hall High School, Eden Theological Seminary and Webster University — no other parties.

These kinds of actions from the council create a further divide and show a serious lack of communication between the organizations they are conducting business with. Why they can’t seem to simply work together with Webster instead of always opposing them, I don’t understand.

As students who are also members of the Webster Groves community, we were upset. We had all gathered to voice our opinions, but our voices were silenced.

The council suggested the students and community members each create a presentation to show the council at the next meeting on Thursday, Sept. 18. SGA Vice President Jenna Hopkins, Sergeant-at-Arms Alex Bonney, Senator for Education Caroline Wiley and I are currently working with students to plan the presentation.

The main issue is the council is trying to pass this bill without communication or collaboration, which creates tension between all parties.

Eden President David Greenhaw made a reasonable argument that the council is trying to make the bill about the user, not the uses of the property. For example, the proposed zoning bill allowed many uses for a seminary or a small college, but not for a university. For that reason, I feel the bill is discriminatory.

I don’t understand the council’s perspective. The timing of the bill and the restrictive nature make it seem punitive toward not Nerinx or Eden, but just Webster, which is completely unfair. It seems like the city council is trying to make it as difficult as possible for Webster University to grow and even function efficiently with all of these stipulations in the zoning bill.

There are other aspects of Bill 8851 that seem unreasonable: the green space and parking requirements would make it impossible for further construction, including building the Interdisciplinary Science building, and the master plan section to the proposed bill would give the council unchecked power regarding our proposed Master Plan.

The bill would also prevent possible collaboration between Eden and Webster. I do see a possible issue with students crossing Lockwood, but that concern could be solved in a number of ways, such as building additional crosswalks.

I am confused why the council is so adamantly against positive progression. They don’t even seem willing to negotiate or talk with representatives from the schools. Even the city council’s attitude toward Webster President Elizabeth Stroble was disrespectful. When representatives for Eden or Nerinx were speaking, they were cooperative, but when addressing Stroble, they talked over her and shot back remarks in rude tones, and demanded answers in disingenuous voices.

When the mayor asked what we would want changed about the bill, Stroble said they wanted to keep the Conditional Use Permit process currently in place and reject the entire new proposed zoning bill. But the key issue, in my opinion, is the attitude for collaboration between City Council and Webster University.

Greenhaw rightly stated to the council, “You have taken a market for collaboration, and strangled it.”

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