Video by Sam Masterson
For more videos of the discussion on Ordinance 8753, click here.
In a 5-1 vote, the Webster Groves City Council approved Ordinance 8753 at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 4. Councilmember Ken Burns was the only nay vote. Councilmember Debi Salberg was unable to attend.
The ordinance, which was delayed at three previous council meetings to gather information and gauge public response, outlines Eden Theological Seminary’s 2012 master plan by granting a new Conditional Use Permit (CUP). This includes the sale or lease of 11.8 acres to as many as 10 vendors, including a substantial portion to Webster University.
CUPs are common in city government and are used to allow properties like Eden — which is located in a residential district — to operate as a non-residential entity. In order to sell or lease any of its property to an outside vendor, Eden must acquire a CUP from the city.
The ordinance places new restrictions on any sale or lease of Eden property, including limiting vendor space on campus to less than 5,000 square feet and limiting vendor employees to 15 or less.
“Why 5,000 square feet?” Eden President David Greenhaw said. “That number just comes out of thin air. It’s arbitrary. It’s capricious. And therefore, it is inappropriate.”
Before voting on the ordinance, council heard from the public. Webster University President Elizabeth Stroble began the evening with a prepared statement in which she criticized the ordinance as overreaching.
“The bill is contradictory,” Stroble said. “It inhibits Eden and Webster from being strong, collaborative partners.”
Stroble said all parties wanted a “reasonable and amicable solution,” but that 8753 placed unfair restrictions on Eden and made the partnership with Webster University harder to execute.
“Webster and Eden have been sharing facilities and resources for many years,” Stroble said. “We believe this partnership is in the best interest of the Webster Groves community.”
Webster organized a petition-signing campaign among students, local residents and alumni urging council members to vote against the ordinance. More than a dozen local residents addressed council and spoke against the passage of 8753.
“We’ve got more than 155,000 alumni worldwide,” Associate Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Barbara O’Malley said after the meeting. “We placed an ad in the Webster-Kirkwood Times and placed a letter in Webster Worldwide (magazine) to get the information out there. We’ve got friends everywhere.”
City attorney Helmut Starr said the changes to Eden’s CUP were a direct response to Eden’s new master plan, and the failure of the previous 2000 master plan to address certain uses on the campus.
“The current CUP has expired, and the city has the right to renew, deny or review the permit as it sees fit,” Starr said. “There were uses on Eden’s property that were never imagined in 2000 that, frankly, might not be totally legal given the current CUP on their property.”
Several councilmembers, including Greg Mueller, echoed this sentiment, and highlighted the necessity of the ordinance.
“Section 1 of this ordinance provides Eden for a chance any time in the future to come back and reapply for a CUP that meets their specific desires with respect to Webster (University),” Mueller said. “This ordinance doesn’t restrict Webster, it doesn’t even deal with Webster, it deals with Eden and it gives Eden room in the future to return and look for a new deal.”
Section 1 of the ordinance does provide opportunities for Eden to reapply for a CUP for the 11.8 acres Webster University hopes to occupy “at such a time as a concrete proposal for the use of such property has been developed.” The “insufficient evidence or information before the city council” regarding the 11.8 acres were the primary concerns in accepting the Eden master plan, according to language in the ordinance.
Because the Eden master plan did not feature enough information for the council to consider granting a CUP for Webster to occupy the space, 8753 sets to define a CUP for the entire property, which includes the restrictions on space and employees on outside vendors, as well as establishing specific uses for each building on campus.
Councilmember Burns, the lone “no” vote on 8753, provided The Journal with a written statement: “Ordinance 8753 is an impediment to a reasonable and necessary final resolution of the ownership and utilization of portions of Eden’s current land holdings in a manner that serves these institutions’ and the residents’ of Webster Groves long term goals in the best possible way.”
Dave Buck, Webster Groves resident, said he believes the city council has a good “grasp” on what the ordinance states.
“It doesn’t prevent them from doing some of the things they want to do,” Buck said. “So I think Mayor Welch, she said, ‘This was supposed to be a really simple thing, and it ended up being this real drawn out and complicated thing.’ I think it’s a simple thing, and a springboard to the next step for both schools.”
Webster Groves City Mayor Gerry Welch also gave a statement before voting, and public comments were given on 8753.
“To the students of Webster University, understand that this community appreciates you, welcomes you, and cares about you,” Welch said. “We know we are your home away from home, and we know you’re an important part of the community.”
Welch also said community members near Eden were “scared and concerned” about the impact of Webster expansion on the “community at large.”
“There is a big picture here about the long-term goals of Eden and Webster,” Welch said. “But that big picture is not why we are here tonight.”
— Brittany Ruess and Dan Duncan contributed to this article.