December 1, 2020

Webster University, City of Webster Groves, Eden hold last collaborative meeting

Representatives from Webster Groves City Council, Eden Theological Seminary and Webster University held the last Special Joint Committee Meeting for the time being.

These collaborative meetings began Aug. 28, 2012 as a result of controversy surrounding Ordinance 8753 and the possibility of Webster University crossing Lockwood Avenue. At the Jan. 7 meeting, Welch mentioned the green space at the corner of Lockwood and Bompart Avenues — which has been an area of tension between the university and Webster Groves residents.

Eden Theological Seminary's green space at the corner of Lockwood and Bompart Avenues was discussed at the last collaborative meeting on Monday, Jan. 7. PHOTO FROM THE JOURNAL ARCHIVES

“We have talked a lot about the corner at Lockwood and Bompart and the green space that is there. And I think this council is very concerned that that remain green and (the council) is prepared to take the necessary steps to ensure that that happens,” Welch said at the meeting. “So on our part we will begin whatever process we need to take to ensure that that space stays green.”

Welch said she was unable to discuss what that process might potentially look like because it discusses real-estate.

The last collaborative meeting was on Monday, Jan. 7 at Webster Groves City Hall.

Those in attendance also discussed the option for both educational institutions to rezone from their current residential zone to an educational zone. Webster Groves Mayor Gerry Welch said someone from Webster University and Eden “needs to make some steps.”

Eden President David Greenhaw said rezoning is worth the change but he isn’t sure Eden has a need to change at the moment.

He said the biggest advantage in a zoning change is that the zoning would then fit the use. Eden’s property has been used for educational purposes since the seminary moved to Webster Groves in 1924.

“It never makes sense to me to have us zoned residential when we are, have been and always will be educational,” Greenhaw said.

If the zoning fit the use, institutions wouldn’t have to get approval for simple changes that fall in the use of an educational zone.

The disadvantage, Greenhaw said, is that the process of rezoning takes time and money at a time when Eden isn’t, “particularly being driven at the moment by any (immediate) change.” Greenhaw said Eden’s current plan is to make changes to its campus over the next three years.

Eden will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of rezoning at its board meeting at the end of January. Webster University was not available for comment in time for publication.

Director of Planning and Development Mara Perry briefly discussed differences in conditional use permits and institutional zoning processes at the meeting.

She said currently Eden’s Master Plan doesn’t address the Luhr Library, but the Webster University Master Plan does. Institutional zoning requires the two institutions’ master plans be merged together.

“Neither of them (the two master plans) did address the green corner (at Bompart and Lockwood Avenues). Neither of them said particularly specifically what was happening on the corner at Bompart and Lockwood,” Perry said.

Perry said if that space was going to remain an “open zone,” institutional zoning requires that it be clear in Eden’s master plan.

In a follow-up interview, Greenhaw said it’s difficult for him to submit a plan for what will happen to the green space because he doesn’t know. It depends on who rents or purchases the property and what they want to do with it.

“There’s some understanding that we don’t have a plan for the space along Bompart and we do have a plan for it,” Greenhaw said. “Our plan is to quit using it and to find a way to either lease it or sell it so it converts that asset in support of our institutional mission.”

At the Jan. 7 meeting, Welch said the university and Eden have heard the concerns of Webster Groves residents so she believes they can better address those concerns moving forward.

She said, for the moment, there will no longer be Special Joint Committee Meetings unless the city, the university and Eden feel the meetings need to be resumed.

“We’re at the point here where I think we’ve done as much work as we can. I think Webster and Eden will have to begin some sort of official process if you want to make any changes to your current situation,” Welch said.

There has always been a collaborative team of city council members who met with Webster University several times a year as needed. Welch suggested to Eden, Webster University and the city that those collaborative team meetings continue on a scheduled quarterly basis — with the first one being in March. She also suggested Eden be involved in those meetings.

“They’ve been here with us all along in these special collaborative meetings and there is so much of a relationship with Eden,” Welch said. “The city knows what we need to do. You all know what you need to do and we’re here to say this has been a very good collaborative session,” Welch said.

Webster Groves resident Dave Buck disagrees that the collaborative meetings have accomplished what they set out to accomplish. Buck expressed this at last weeks city council meeting and in an email to Welch and the Webster Groves City Council.

“But Webster U wants to cross (Lockwood), so Eden supports it and won’t get in their way,” Buck said in his email. “The residents will be ready with their arguments.  Needless to say, get ready ’cause you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Editors’ note: Webster University was contacted for an interview but was not available in time for publication. 

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