December 8, 2016

Mayor and city council get to work, postpone public hearing on proposed educational zoning

The Webster Groves mayor said the time for public hearings is over, for now. She said now is the time for the city council to get to work on the proposed educational zoning.

The city council voted unanimously at the Oct. 7 council meeting to postpone the next public hearing on the ordinance until Nov. 4. The decision was made in an effort to better present an effective and efficient educational zoning ordinance that benefits all parties involved.

“We have been at this for a long time, there is a tremendous amount of information and the council really needs to sort, analyze and process (the information),” Webster Groves Mayor Gerry Welch  said after the meeting. “We thought that, (the postponement) is a better use of our time. If somebody has something that they really want to submit to the public record, they can submit it. But it is time to get into the work part of this.”

The city council conducted a work session Sept. 30 and will continue to conduct work sessions on proposed educational zoning ordinance 8851 and the zoning district and map amendments ordinance 8852.

Both ordinances, if passed, could affect the working relationship between Webster University and Eden Theological Seminary.

“Tonight, we will not take additional verbal testimony, but we will hold the public hearing open so that we may continue our deliberation over the coming weeks,” Welch said.

Webster resident Sebastian Bellomo said he attended the city council’s work session on Sept. 30 and was optimistic of what he saw of the council members.

“I did attend work session of last week, and I walked away with optimism. I felt really good about  what I had heard, not that there was anything resolved because there really wasn’t,” Bellomo said.

Bellomo said although he felt the work session he attended was a “very healthy conversation” between council members, he felt they did not have a good understanding of the zoning ordinance yet.

Webster Groves resident Dave Buck said although the announcement was not the best option, the postponement is welcome if it means the city will process the information and come up with a viable solution.

“It’s not ideal, but it’s a necessity because there is a lot of stuff and a lot of different input, and I think slow and steady is going to win the race rather than trying and rush through something that is not well thought out,” Buck said.      “This is a big deal for the city, I would much rather they take their time. I don’t care if it takes another year, honestly, just as long as they get it right.”

Buck said he thought the city council work sessions were a good idea, but he believed they were not true work sessions because they did not include all those affected. Buck said the sessions lacked involvement from the university and Eden. The lack of collaboration between the city council, university and Eden is what leads to the distrust he believes is occurring on all sides.

Welch said the work sessions are the next step in the council’s process to work on the ordinance and come up with a solution. Welch reiterated the council has received enough input from the university and Eden on the ordinance and the council will take time to review their concerns.

“We have heard comments from the university about the parking requirements and the green space requirements and we’re getting into the ordinance and what is really there with the parking requirements and do they need to be changed. Nobody is (postponing the public hearing) to hurt anybody, there is no attempt to hurt. So if there is something that is written in that ordinance that doesn’t work, we need to fix it,” Welch said.

While Welch said the decision to postpone the public hearing was proposed during a Sept. 30 work session, the date the public hearing would be postponed to was not decided until the Oct. 7 meeting. Welch suggested the postponement date be Oct. 21, but asked for the council for their thoughts on the date.

Regardless of the date, Councilmember Anne Tolan wanted to emphasize to the audience the time during the postponement would be used to better the ordinance for Webster University, Eden Theological Seminary and Webster Groves residents.

“The only thing I would like to add to the individuals in the audience is that we are still working on the ordinance (for the educational zoning),” Tolan said. “We have had multiple work sessions and we aim to have something for people to respond to that reflects some of the suggestions and comments through other public hearings and that document would probably be done by Oct. 21.”

Welch proposed the Nov. 4 date in order to give the city council more time to conduct work sessions.

Welch said the city council welcomes any written comments through letters or email to be sent to the city to be put on the public hearing record. Welch said that those who filled out speaker cards wishing to speak publicly on the zoning, would have their comments placed on the minutes of the meeting, not public hearing record.

Welch said the public could still speak at the city council meeting or they could pass and wait to speak at the Nov. 4 public hearing.

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