November 28, 2020

Residents express concern for community as Webster University seeks expansion

Ordinance 8753, which Webster Groves City Council passed on Tuesday, Sept. 4, outlined Eden Theological Seminary’s master plan in three phases. Phase III called for the sale or lease of 11.8 acres of “underutilized” land to 10 vendors, including a significant portion to Webster University.

“Webster University crossing Lockwood (Avenue) is the big issue,” said Councilmember Anne Tolan at the June 19 City Council meeting. “I think there are residents who would say it is no problem. I think there are residents who would say it is a big problem. What I want — and I think what most people on Council want — is for all this to be out in the open and not to be done piecemeal.”

Tolan said she thinks Eden’s master plan should be presented to the city and community but not approved by the city. She said Eden’s master plan and Conditional Use Permits (CUP) should be separate.

City Council postponed the reading of the ordinance and closing of the public hearing three times during the summer. City Council completed successful first and second readings at the regular City Council meeting on Aug. 21.

Since the June 5 public hearing, the ordinance has been amended to accept Phases I and II of Eden’s master plan while adding restrictions to Phase III. Residents attended each public hearing and voiced concerns about how Webster University’s potential expansion may affect their property values, safety and community.

Webster Groves resident Peggy Smith is worried about Webster University’s goal to increase undergraduate enrollment to 5,000 students.

“This is not a college town,” Smith said at the Aug. 21 meeting. “We are a historic community that takes great pride in our children, in our churches and in Eden Seminary.”

Smith said a Webster enrollment increase may be good for business, but it’s not good for safety or traffic.

Kim Griffo, executive director at the International Town and Gown Association, a consulting firm specializing in community and university expansion issues, said tension between universities and communities is normal.

“When the university grows, typically there are growing pains, and how you’ll address those challenges that are going on within that relationship will tell you how successful the outcome is going to be,” Griffo said.

Webster University purchased three buildings — Wherli Center, Luhr Library and the “White House”— and 5.3 acres of land from Eden for $5.3 million on Dec. 9, 2009.

“And there are residents on both sides of this coin who can make relevant and valid arguments,” Webster Groves resident Dave Buck said in an email to Welch and City Council members on July 10, 2012.

Webster Provost Julian Schuster said when students choose Webster University, they are also choosing to be part of the Webster Groves community.

“As such, (students’) behavior, their demeanor, their successes, their actions do have an impact on the City of Webster Groves,” Schuster said. “We are proud that our students are good citizens, and good citizens need to be heard. So my position is not (to) necessarily tell what the needs are, but to tell how much we are a part of this community.”

Residents FOR Webster Groves, which was formed in fall 2009, submitted a 35-page binder to City Council in May 2012. The binder detailed the group’s concerns and presented possible solutions.

One solution the group suggested was for Webster University to purchase or lease property near the Webster Groves community — such as Kenrick Cinema or Deer Creek Plaza — and then  renovate the property. Another suggested solution was for the City of Webster Groves to purchase and preserve the green space on Eden’s campus.

Residents FOR Webster Groves was formed when a group of residents became aware of Webster University’s intentions to expand its campus onto Eden property. The residents were concerned about the potential impact expansion could have on the community.

Resident Kim Mumm sent an email to the city clerk, City Council members and Webster Groves mayor Gerry Welch on June 4, 2012 — the day before Eden President David Greenshaw presented its master plan at City Council.

Mumm asked the City Council members to make decisions based on logic and “not be deterred by a small group of naysayers.” She also asked the city to be an advocate for Webster University and Eden.

“I am weary of the increasing audacity and presumptiveness of a group of people, self-named ‘Residents FOR Webster Groves’ (as if the rest of us are not),” Mumm said in the email. “They have apparently decided to obstruct Webster University and Eden Seminary from the most benign act of possibly expanding — gasp — ACROSS LOCKWOOD — and on their OWN LAND!!”

Mumm copied Webster President Elizabeth Stroble and Greenshaw on the email.

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