September 30, 2016

Eden fights for clarification

For Eden Theological Seminary the proposed zoning changes are not just a matter of politics, it’s also a matter of religion. Dr. David Greenhaw, president and professor of preaching and worship at Eden, said the new classification of Eden as EC2 is too specific for them to overlook. An EC2 classification is for small colleges and seminaries. 

“There are no small colleges in Webster Groves. Nobody fits that definition, there is one seminary; we fit the definition,” Greenhaw said.

As the classification stands right now, Eden is part of an A1 residential zone. Greenhaw said that classification makes no sense either, since they are a seminary, not a house.

“The seminary has been here for 90 years and the zoning code isn’t 90 years old,” Greenhaw said. “So, we were already here doing everything that we already do 90 years ago, and they developed a zoning code, and they zoned Eden Seminary as A1 residential. ”

Eden doesn’t have as many residents as it once did.

Greenhaw said that the demographic of students attending Eden Seminary have changed from mostly single males, to women, students with families, members of the LGBTQ community and so forth. This change in demographic has changed the way the seminary deals with housing for its students. Schultz Hall and West Hall are dormitory style buildings that stand mostly vacant.

Schultz Hall is mostly empty, and West Hall houses one student and his family, Greenhaw said. Eden loses half a million dollars in revenue just maintaining their vacant buildings. Because of these vacancies Eden would like to offer the empty space to Webster University to use for their undergraduate students who want to live on campus. Ordinance 8852 would prohibit that.

Under ordinance 8852, EC2 buildings cannot have students from any EC3 institutions on their site, unless they have a Conditional Use Permit to use a classroom. EC3 is classified as universities and large colleges, of which there is only one in Webster Groves—Webster University.

Gary Feder is representing Eden in their fight against the new zoning ordinance. He says an EC2 classification would make it virtually impossible for Eden to effectively use their property. Not collaborating with neighboring universities would hinder the education of those studying at Eden, Greenhaw said.

“To run a theological school in isolation, away from the rest of the world, is bad education,” Greenhaw said.

Both Feder and Greenhaw said one of the major issues with the ordinance is that it is discriminatory of the users and not the uses. Greenhaw said Eden would have restrictions on relationships with an EC3 school. Other relationships with other colleges or universities not classified as an EC3 school would be permissible.

Feder said that these kind of restrictions are “highly unusual” for educational zoning. Feder is a real estate, construction and development attorney for law firm Husch Blackwell LLP.  He said the ordinance would segregate the seminary.

Also, under the new zoning ordinance, Eden would have to maintain 50 percent of their land as green space and any construction or development on the green space would be prohibited.  Under the same zoning ordinance, Webster University would only have to maintain 30 percent of their property as green space, Feder said.  He said these requirements are restrictive and unnecessary.

Greenhaw said under those rules Eden would never be able to grow because of the need for green space and also because of the new formula to calculate parking spots.

“If I were looking for a place to build a new college I wouldn’t go to a city that has the kind of relationships that they have. I’d never build a new college here,” Greenhaw said.

He said that the building uses have changed over the years and will continue to change, but if they are prohibited from changing they might not make it.

Feder said that the expectation that Eden will stay the same as it was is unrealistic. He is, however, optimistic for a more reasonable educational zoning ordinance. He said he hopes for one that allows Eden to have flexibility with their property.

If one does not come about, Greenhaw said he will continue to fight for collaboration.

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