December 2, 2020

Webster Groves City Council to voice opinions on Eden’s master plan at June 19 hearing

The Webster Groves City Council will hold a public hearing on June 19 to make a final decision regarding Eden Seminary’s request to sell or lease land it doesn’t plan to use in its 2012 master plan. The two ordinances to be discussed — 8753 and 8754 — were postponed on Tuesday, June 5 during a public hearing. The city council’s decision on the ordinances could determine if and how Eden Seminary will either sell or lease 11.8 acres of its land to ten vendors including Webster University.

Eden President David Greenhaw presented Eden’s 2012 master plan to the city council and the public at the June 5 hearing. Eden’s enrollment decrease has helped shape the master plan and the need to sell or lease to the ten vendors.

The city council will address Eden’s 2012 master plan at the June 19 hearing, which will be at 7:30 p.m. in the Webster Groves City Hall. The city council will also discuss Eden’s conditional use permits with the ten vendors.

The decisions the city council will make, residents said at the meeting, could change the Webster Groves community forever.

Greenhaw said Eden has not seen enough growth in its student population since its 2000 master plan and cannot use its campus fully. Greenhaw also said other seminaries in the U.S. have seen a similar decrease but, unlike Eden, had to close their campuses.

“We believe that we have more than we can sustain on our own,” Greenhaw said. “Six of our current buildings will no longer be used by Eden.”

Eden’s master plan includes three phases.

Eden’s Master Plan

In the first phase, Eden would like to update three buildings in the main part of the seminary — Schultz Hall, Press Educational Center and West Hall. Eden and other vendors will continue to utilize these buildings. The second phase calls to move student living to the historic quad area by 2017. Eden applied for conditional use permits before the June 5 hearing for the changes to the three buildings, which phase I and II address.

In phase three, Eden wants to sell or lease 11.8 acres, which it calls “underutilized,” to ten vendors. Ordinance 8754 addresses all the vendors except Webster University. Ordinance 8753 addresses the 4.3 acres of academic space the university currently has under agreement with Eden. Phase three also addresses the possible sale or lease of 7. 5-acre quadrant of Eden’s green space at the corner of Lockwood and Bompart.

The Webster Groves city council June 19 hearing could determine if and how Eden Seminary leases or sells to ten vendors.

Eden’s 2000 master plan expired in 2010, and Greenhaw said it was time for an updated plan. If the city council approves the plan, Eden will begin a $6 million fundraising effort.

Residents’ concerns

Phase one and phase two did not receive much reaction from the Webster Groves residents. Phase three did, however.

Because of Eden and Webster University’s right to first refusal, the university would have first “dibs” on the land.

This agreement states if either school were to sell any part of the campus then the other school would have first opportunity to purchase that land. Several of the Webster Groves residents were unaware of Eden and Webster University’s right to first refusal agreement. The new knowledge of the Eden-Webster University right to refusal made several Webster Groves residents more cautious about how the green space would be used.

Dave Buck, of 125 S. Elm, looked directly at Greenhaw during part of his testimony.

“(If you sell the green space) all hell is going to break out in this community,” Buck said.

Webster Groves resident Anne Murphy expressed concern that the vendors, who are non-profit organizations, including Webster University, will have more influence on the city council’s decision compared to the residents.

“If you approve Eden’s master plan you are deciding right now to change Webster Groves forever. You are deciding right now that these two large non for profits are to be the tail that wags the dog that is the tax paying property owners,” Murphy said. “The tax base will continue to erode and more streets will become parking lots. Once the first domino has fallen the other dominoes cannot stop.”

Webster Groves residents who spoke at the hearing stated how important 7.5 acres of green space was to the community. David Andre of 60 N. Bompart said he moved into his home partly because of the green space  — which his family, including his two sons, has enjoyed. He said the loss of the green space would be a loss to the community and he would not want to look out at a building or structure like a Webster University parking lot. Andre and other residents who live near Eden also worried their property value would decrease if another building or parking lot replaced the green space. “It’s private property but it’s almost become a public domain,” Andre said.

The Vendors

Greenhaw said the vendors did not need a conditional use permit in 2000 because the mission of the vendors and Eden were both or either educationally or religiously based. Because this remains true, Greenhaw said, the permits would not be necessary for the vendors. The nine vendors are currently using the space only for clerical and administrational purposes.

These vendors are:

— Missouri Mid-South Conference to use 1,556 feet in the lower level, south end of Schultz Hall.

— Deaconess Parish Nurse Ministries to use 391.5 square feet in the Press Building, first floor.

— Church World Services of 282 square feet on the lower level of Schultz Hall

— Southeast Gateway Association to use 404 square feet on the lower level of Schultz Hall

— Chalice Press to use 2,624 square feet on the first floor of Schultz Hall

— Institute of Justice and Peace to use 306.25 square feet in the Plant Operations Building

— Ecumenical Catholic Communion to use 348 square feet on the lower level of Schultz Hall

— Interfaith Partnership to use 230 square feet on the lower level of Schultz Hall

— Episcopal School of Ministry of 164.5 square feet on the lower level of Schultz Hall

Greenhaw also said he would be opposed to the city council making any decision as to how Eden could or could not use its property.

“Should we have to come forward every time we have a new vendor?” Greenhaw said. “We have fewer people so there is fewer use. We are trying to keep life on this campus (by selling or leasing Eden property).”

Laura Rein, Webster University secretary, Barb Ehnes, Webster University director of community and media relations, and Steve Strang, Webster University senior project manager, attended the hearing.

 

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