December 2, 2020

Webster Groves City Council postpones decision on Eden’s master plan for third time

With the absence of key representation, discussion will continue at August 21 public hearing

The Webster Groves City Council tabled Ordinance 8753 regarding Eden Seminary’s 2012 master plan until the next meeting on August 21.

Gary Feder, Eden’s attorney, asked Webster Groves City Council to postpone the decision last Friday, July 13 in an email. Helmut Starr, Webster Groves City Attorney, said the request was made because several important people involved in the hearings weren’t available on July 17. Feder and Dr. David Greenhaw, president of Eden Seminary, were both unable to attend. And Elizabeth Stroble, president of Webster University, was out of town. At the July 17 meeting, a lawyer representing Eden asked the city to keep the public hearing open until the next meeting. He said that will give them time for continued work on the ordinance so it fully addresses potential grievances.

Webster Groves resident, Maggie Sowash of 26 Joy Ave., expressed frustration with the absence of Greenhaw and Feder. She said both attended the city council meeting on June 19 and knew the decision had been postponed to July 17.

“I think it is disrespectful on each’s (Greenhaw and Feder) part to not have spoken up on June 19 to say then that they could not be here tonight,” Sowash told the council. “Am I surprised by that kind of behavior? Not really.”

Several Webster University representatives attended the meeting including Barbara O’Malley — associate vice president and chief communications officer, Steve Strang — senior project manager, Laura Rein — university secretary and Barb Ehnes —community and media relations director. None spoke.

This is the third time the decision has been postponed by the city council. Greenhaw presented Eden’s 2012 master plan at the June 5 city council meeting.

Eden’s 2012 master plan outlines three phases. Phase I requests updates to historic buildings on Eden’s campus and phase II states Eden’s want to renovate residential halls to accommodate graduate students. Phase III outlines Eden’s plan to lease or sell land it doesn’t plan to use due to decreased enrollment.

Sowash said if the city protects Eden, they should be prepared to protect all other businesses in Webster Groves when they start to fail because the market changes.

“Seminaries across the country are losing their attendance, losing their students. That’s just the nature of the beast,” Sowash said.

Ordinance 8753 addresses the 4.3 acres of Eden’s property that is currently under agreement with Webster University. It also addresses the possible sale or lease of 7.5 acres of Eden’s green space at the corner of Lockwood and Bompart.

Residents’ concerns

Members of the Webster Groves community voiced their concerns about the possible sale or lease of Eden’s acreage to Webster University and the city council at the July 17 meeting. Residents’ main concern is the possible sale or lease lies with the green space at the corner of Lockwood and Bompart.

Sowash was concerned with the effects the ordinance may have on the community’s character.

“Webster Groves is a unique community…I truly believe that if Webster University is allowed to cross over to Eden, we are going to lose a lot of that character. We’re no longer going to be the Andy Griffith, Andy’s Mayberry type town. That is going to directly affect our community,” Sowash said to the city council at the July 17 meeting.

Webster Groves resident Peggy McAuliffe said her concerns are Webster University’s right of first refusal and its intentions regarding the property at Eden. She pointed out the history of collaboration and shared spaces between Eden and Webster University. McAuliffe questioned why both institutions’ master plans did not “converge more clearly to the community.”

She also expressed concern about the possibility of diminishing property value.

“I hope the council will think of all those citizens who stood where I am standing, right now, years ago. Those people who lived on Garden, on Catalina and on Big Bend, who pleaded with the city to protect their neighborhoods and their homes,” McAuliffe said. “I image they would tell you that the character of their neighborhood was adversely affected and some of them, their neighborhood is gone as are their houses. For those that remain, their property values have been diminished.”

McAuliffe said there is a difference between university dorms and the dorms for seminary students. As a neighbor, she is concerned.

 “It should be a concern of anybody who heard the students from Webster University talking about jumping fences and jaywalking when they unveiled the master plan at Webster University,” McAuliffe said.

Dave Buck, of 124 S. Elm, visited Eden on Monday. He said the tour of the campus gave him a different perspective.

“I really like their (Eden’s) master plan. I think it’s brilliant because they are adapting to a very difficult situation and a market in transition,” Buck said at the public hearing. “One of my wishes is that the city council instead of not approvals and denials, would go to Eden and ask one simple question, ‘how can we help you?’”

He said Webster Groves is a religious community with a large number of churches and Eden has been a part of that for 88 years. He went on to say if Eden doesn’t adapt to the changing market, they won’t survive as an institution.

But, Buck said he has read the ordinance many times and the city of Webster Groves “can do better.”

“They (Eden) have 21 acres to play around with. There’s a lot of fun you can have moving the pieces around to try find common ground where everybody can win. This (the current ordinance) in my humble opinion, with all do respect, doesn’t do it. You (the city council) are better than this and you can do better,” Buck said as he held up a copy of the ordinance to the council.

Frank Janoski, of 50 N. Bompart, also spoke at the hearing. He said the current ordinance gives Eden what it needs and protect the character of the neighborhood.

“At the same time I hope that this body will continue to be sensitive to the important investment that residents have made to their properties and protect those investments,” Janoski said to city council.

Starr said he agrees with the city council’s decision to postpone.

“I agree that it’s appropriate to have those people who are directly involved in an application for a conditional use permit to be available at the time that the public hearing is closed and you start reading the bill that affects them and their property,” Starr said. “It’s just out of fairness to let them be here when that occurs.”

The city council will address Eden’s 2012 master plan at 7:30 p.m. on August 21 in the Webster Groves City Hall.

 

Check back at websterjournal.com after the August 21 city council meeting for updates.

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