By Dan Bauman and Megan Favignano
On Tuesday, Aug. 14, Webster Groves City Council entered into a discussion about possible collaborative meetings between city government, Webster University and Eden Theological Seminary. These meetings, Webster Groves Mayor Gerry Welch said, would focus on long-term issues involving the three parties. The meetings, she said, would not address Ordinance 8753 — the ordinance outlining Eden’s master plan and the possible sale or lease of Eden’s property.
This discussion came after City Council held a special executive closed meeting in the second floor conference room of city hall. According to the session’s agenda, the council met in private to discuss privileged information between the city and its attorney, as well as topics related to real estate. The closed session lasted approximately 2 hours, 20 minutes.
Welch said two city council representatives should be present at these institutional meetings and the meeting sizes should be small. Welch asked council members to submit their availability for the week of Aug. 27, wishing for the parties to meet before Sept. 4. More meetings would be held after the initial meeting, Welch said.
Welch asked the council to submit topics to be discussed at the institutional meetings. Several council members offered ideas. City representatives in these meetings, council members said, should discuss multiple topics. Subjects such as the green space, regular communication among the three groups, long-term resolution of changes in ownership of Eden properties are among them.
Along with these — concerns and uses of properties adjacent to residents’ properties, such as parking and traffic, and residential input — was included in the list.
Welch said Webster University and Eden would bring their own topics for discussion to meetings.
Webster University Provost, Julian Schuster, and Eden’s Executive Vice President Rick Walters attended the public meeting on Aug. 14. Three Webster Groves residents also attended.
While City Council met in private, several of Webster’s administrators waited in the council chamber for the public meeting to resume. President Elizabeth Stroble, Schuster, Director of Media and Community Relations Barb Ehnes, Webster University Secretary Laura Rein, and Project Manager Steve Strang sat in the chamber with the university’s lawyer, Brad Goss.
After 45 minutes of waiting, all Webster administrators departed from city hall. Walters also waited in the chamber until the meeting was reopened to the public.
The possible formation of these regular institutional meetings comes after three months of City Council public hearings regarding Eden’s 2012 master plan which is outlined Ordinance 8753.
Eden’s master plan consists of three phases. In phase three, Eden wants to sell or lease 11.8 “underutilized” acres to ten vendors. This includes Webster University. The 7.5- acre quadrant of Eden’s green space at the corner of E. Lockwood Avenue and Bompart Avenue is part of those 11.8 acres. Phase three has caused concern among Webster Groves residents.
At the July 17 City Council meeting, Webster Groves resident Peggy McAuliffe said her concerns with Ordinance 8753 are Webster University’s right to first refusal and its intentions regarding the property at Eden.
Eden and Webster University’s right to first refusal states if either school were to sell any part of the campus then the other school would have first opportunity to purchase that land. McAuliffe pointed out the history of collaboration and shared spaces between Eden and Webster University. She questioned why both institutions’ master plans did not “converge more clearly to the community.”
Dave Buck, of 124 S. Elm, visited Eden’s campus. 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 July 17 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.
However, 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,” Buck said.
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 influenced the master plan and the need to sell or lease its property. The City Council has postponed making a decision on Ordinance 8753 three times since the June 5 meeting.
City Council will meet again on Tuesday, Aug. 21 to decide on the future of Eden’s master plan.
For more information on Eden’s master plan, go to websterjournal.com.