December 2, 2020

The not so inevitable: Webster denied expansion across Lockwood

There have been three months of meetings, postponements and extensive public hearings regarding Webster Groves Ordinance 8753.If approved, the ordinance would deny Webster University its right to expand across Lockwood Avenue. After all the time dedicated to this ordinance, the Webster Groves City Council has finally voted in favor of it. The vote means Webster University has been denied access to 7.5 acres of Eden Seminary land.
This is much to The Journal’s surprise. If the city council had voted “No” on Ordinance 8753, Webster University would be allowed to access that land for its own master plan expansion. The university is planning to have 5,000 undergraduate students enrolled in the next 10 to 15 years. That space is vital, if not completely necessary, to reach that goal. Now, Webster will struggle to make spatial needs for future growth.
It may be an understatement to say tensions have risen a considerable amount during each public hearing when the ordinance is brought up. Webster Groves residents have not been shy in voicing their anger. They fear the outcome the university will bring to the community if expansion to the green space happens. Though The Journal understands and sympathizes with residents’ concerns, we are quite offended. It wouldn’t be correct to say we are mad or angered. But we are hurt and disheartened at some views the residents have shared at public hearings.
As we said in our Aug. 15-28 issue, we recognize the hesitations residents have about Webster University expanding across Lockwood. This would include decreased property value of residents’ homes and less space for their children to play. We understand the “unknown” aspect of how the university will use the space.
The part that saddens us is the fear residents have that Webster University expansion will make Webster Groves more of a “college town” or the university will take over the community. Webster has been an important part of this community for almost 100 years. Eden Seminary has been an important part of this community for more than 100 years.
The key words in these statements are “a part of this community.” Webster students are a part of this community as much as Webster Groves residents. They go to school here. Students work at local shops and restaurants here. Some of them live here and pay taxes here. They’ve made this comfortable town their home.
For some residents to have an “us vs. them” ideal and make the university their enemy upsets us. It’s hindering the university to allow more students to be contributors to this community while adding more animosity for future plans.
Ordinance 8753 has potential effects on Webster University students, who have been overlooked throughout this lengthy process. We have felt the unwarrented resentment from some Webster Groves residents — whether it’s through their spoken words at City Council or in interview requests.
The Journal has been to every single city council meeting where Ordinance 8753 was on the agenda. For three months, we’ve focused on the “three entities” — Webster Groves, Webster University and Eden Seminary. But after this past week, it’s become clear students are also stakeholders in this issue.
Our largest worry is the interaction between Webster students and the community, including some of its residents. How will students be affected by the growing tension between the university and the community?
The point The Journal wants to stress is this: No, Webster Groves is not a college town, and if Webster University is somehow able to gain Eden’s unused land, Webster Groves still wouldn’t be a college town. Webster is a well-recognized university with a reputation for excellence. Its students represent that. Sure, the university may have flaws, but the students should not be held accountable for that.
To reiterate what Webster Groves resident Dave Buck said in last week’s letter to the editor, Webster Groves’ mission statement says it is a traditional yet progressive community. The Journal hopes this to be true. Webster University will continue to make changes as its master plan comes to fruition. The university will have to expand in various places to meet the needs of students while simultaneously being conscientious about residents’ concerns.
We hope when the time comes, those with hesitations can prove Webster Groves’ mission statement true. That this community of ours, which includes Webster Groves, Webster University and Eden Seminary, can maintain values we’ve always held while still embracing change for the betterment of the community.

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