December 1, 2020

First joint meeting held among city, seminary and university

Representatives from the Webster Groves City Council, Webster University and Eden Theological Seminary met Tuesday, Aug. 28, for the first of a series of collaborative meetings. At the meeting, these entities established a collective vision and agenda for future summits.

As the group discussed future agenda topics, Webster University President Beth Stroble said the group should foster an environment where it is possible for all three to plan and achieve success.  This environment, Stroble said, should not include “time-delaying processes and regulatory environments that seem all about making sure (the university doesn’t) cross lines.”

When Webster Groves Mayor Gerry Welch asked if Webster University’s needs would be a “useful topic” for upcoming meetings, Stroble responded:

“I think it is, if we think that that changes the eventual process that we need to go through with city council. If it doesn’t, then we ought to just go ahead … and put the master plan — that we serviced and got your feedback about — in front of council and just quit using up time. Because the more we delay bringing the master plan through the process, the more it is costing us in students and money.”

In defense of the process, Councilmember Ann Tolan said the council could not respond without fully knowing Webster University’s priorities, particularly across Lockwood Avenue. Stroble said Webster University had disclosed its intentions for Eden in the university’s master plan presentation. She added the university’s first priority was a new science building, which will not be developed on Eden’s property.

The controversy surrounding Ordinance 8753 also entered the conversation twice.

The ordinance outlines Eden’s master plan and possible sale or lease of 11.8 acres of the seminary’s property to 10 vendors including Webster University. Eden’s master plan also includes the possible sale of 7.5 acres of green space at the corner of Lockwood Avenue and Bompart Avenue — land which residents have expressed concern over. Vocal residents at city council meetings over the summer have said they are concerned at the possibility of Webster University building a parking lot or academic structure there.

At the city council meeting on Aug. 21, city officials said the delegation at the Aug. 28 meeting would specifically not discuss Ordinance 8753, but broader issues involving the three parties.

Stroble was the first to address the ordinance.

“I would hope that the largest possible range of solutions would be on the table for us, and not restrained and restricted by an ordinance that we are opposed to,” Stroble said. “That really constrains the possible solutions on the table, instead of expanding them. I see the collaborative, candid discussion being slightly constrained, if not chilled, by an ordinance we know is coming up for a vote next week.”

The ordinance issue entered into the meeting a second time when David Greenshaw said he objected to the ordinance’s intentions and would like it to be restructured, if possible.

After Greenshaw’s comment, councilmember Kathy Hart said the ordinance could not be discussed. There was no further dialogue about the ordinance thereafter.

Representatives voiced several broad purposes and desired outcomes for the meetings. Councilmembers hoped the meetings would build the city council’s relationships with Eden and Webster University. Webster University and Eden officials said they hoped the discussions would be collaborative and that solutions would serve the three entities as best they could.

Attendants hoped the group could learn and respond to the needs of the three parties, develop a range of solutions to problems, resolve Webster University and Eden zoning issues and bring the broader community into the discussion.

Webster University Provost Julian Schuster said the university would do everything it could to minimize any negative consequences of expansion. But he said Webster University would need Eden and the city as partners.

Dave Buck, a 12-year Webster Groves resident in attendance, said to his knowledge the three entities had never held a meeting like this one. He said if the group could resolve the green space and Lockwood issue, he believed most residents in opposition to Webster University’s expansion would be satisfied.

The next meeting will be held in three weeks on a date to be determined between the three parties. Webster University will present its master plan to the group. It will be held on Webster University’s campus at a location still to be announced.

The delegation is comprised of:

—Beth Stroble, President, Webster University

—Julian Schuster, Provost and Chief Operating Officer, Webster University

—David Greenhaw, President, Eden Seminary

—Rick Walters, Executive Vice Presiden, Eden Seminary

—Councilmember Anne Tolen

—Councilmember Kathy Hart

—Councilmember Ken Burns

—Councilmember Greg Mueller

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