City denies university use of Eden property

Webster Groves residents and Webster University students listen to the City's decision regarding university use of Eden property. PHOTO BY MACKENZIE WILDER
Webster Groves residents and Webster University students listen to the City’s decision regarding university use of Eden property. PHOTO BY MACKENZIE WILDER

Tuesday Aug. 20, Webster Groves City Council voted 4-3 against bill 8804 — a bill which would have allowed Webster University to use two buildings on Eden Theological Seminary’s campus and demolish another.


Mayor Gerry Welch said for her, while the bill was about the use of three buildings, bigger issues needed to be addressed, including potential boundaries for university growth, a change to educational zoning and resident concerns regarding the university’s purchase of residential homes.


“All your (Webster University) Board of Trustees would have to do is pass some sort of policy that says you weren’t going to buy any more residential homes, and you would make everybody in this community feel a lot more comfortable. What you are hearing is a lot of people being really upset about the university, because they are heading into residential neighborhoods. You can stop that,” Welch said.


Webster University Chief Financial Officer Greg Gunderson said the university’s next step is to discuss the city’s decision with its board of trustees.


Webster University’s request to use the three properties at Eden was discussed at previous City Plan Commission and City Council meetings this summer.


Residents and several council members expressed concerns centered around the potential effects the university’s expansion across Lockwood Avenue would have on traffic, parking and the community’s character. Those concerns were raised again by Webster Groves residents and city council members at the meeting on Tuesday, August 20.


In bill 8804, the university requested the following uses for property at Eden:

Use of the Luhr Library (475 E. Lockwood Ave.) for offices and administrative support space, some equipment storage and as a new home for the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) club — which would include a tournament room. The building would have 40 to 50 employees.

The demolishment of the White House (411 E. Lockwood Ave.), which would be replaced with green space and landscaping.

Use of the Wehrli Center (4 Joy Ave.) to be used as an office and meeting room for the university’s alumni association and faculty senate. It would have one or two full-time employees.


During the public comment portion of city council on August 20, Katie Maxwell, a Webster University student and member of Student Government Association (SGA), said she believes the university contributes positively to the community



“Don’t let speculation of future actions or fear of future actions influence this vote,” Maxwell urged the council before the vote on August 20.


Maxwell received applause from other Webster University students and staff present.


Peggy McAuliffe, of the 30 block of Joy Avenue, was one of several residents who urged the city to develop a boundary or limit for university expansion in Webster Groves.


Maggie Sowash, of Joy Avenue, received applause from several Webster Groves residents for her comments at the August 20 meeting. She said university expansion will negatively affect the community in the long run.


“Let’s look at what happened on Garden Avenue and let’s learn from that. I see that’s what’s going to happen at Lockwood and Bompart and Lockwood and Joy,” Sowash said. “Think about how this community will look five or 10 years from now when Webster University has taken over Eden Seminary CUP by CUP.”


Last summer, Eden President David Greenhaw presented Eden’s 2012 master plan to the city council. Eden submitted a CUP, requesting permission to sell or lease 11.8 acres of its campus to 10 vendors, a list which included Webster University. City Council approved the ordinance with amendments that placed restrictions on to whom Eden can lease and sell.



Councilmember Anne Tolan proposed an amendment to the bill, which limited the number of employees permitted to have office space in Luhr Library.


“What I like about this is, it takes the applicant at its word,” Mueller said.


The university said 50 employees would occupy the buildings. The amendment allowed university to increase that use by 10-15 employees. But it required the university to ask the city before growing beyond that.


“It won’t allow an applicant to increase its use over time, in terms of employees or otherwise, without coming back to the city,” Mueller said.
The amendment passed unanimously. But in the end the bill was not approved.


The Vote


Welch said everyone wants to preserve the character of the community and Eden. She said the university’s proposed uses are good alternatives to other potential developers’ uses or the potential vacancy of those three properties.


Ken Burns spoke in favor of and voted for the bill.


“I don’t see the detriment to the neighborhood. I see the concerns to the neighborhood,” Burns said.


Councilmember Kathy Hart recommended the university again pursue educational zoning. With educational zoning, the university would be required to update its master plan frequently. It also would not have to get the city’s approval for changes outlined in the university’s master plan.


Gunderson said the university has discussed switching to educational zoning. He added that Webster University submitted its master plan to Webster Groves and did not receive a response.


Councilmember Debi Salberg voted in favor of the bill, but expressed concerns about future university expansion.


“(Webster’s expansion) becomes this incremental thing, at a point in time we will look back and it won’t be an incremental change. It’s going to be a big change,” Salberg said.


Residential Homes


Councilmember Hart brought up the university’s residential properties in Webster Groves at the July 16 city council meeting.


“My concern is, and I’m sure the residents’ concerns are, how do you stop the continued purchasing of residential homes and when is it going to end,” Hart said.


Webster University Chief Financial Officer Greg Gunderson has previously commented on the residential properties currently owned by the university. At an October meeting between city council members and university and Eden representatives, Gunderson said the university waits to be approached by residents selling their homes and does not approach homeowners.


“We purchase (residential homes) as part of a transitional zone, which is part of our agreement to the city to have something of a buffer between university property and private residences,” Gunderson said at the October meeting.


According to the St. Louis County Assessor’s Office, Webster University owns 20 taxable properties, or residential homes, in Webster Groves — 11 of which are on Catalina Avenue behind the college’s University Center.


Jack Perozi, of the 100 block of Glen Road, expressed concerns that the university will eventually want to create a residential buffer zone around Eden.


“I think the neighborhoods on Catalina and Edgar will disappear,” Perozi said.


At the July 16 meeting, Gunderson said the university has been approached by residents who would like to sell homes north of Lockwood. Gunderson said the university has declined those offers.


In April, Chief Communications Officer Barbara O’Malley said the university’s intent for the residential property is outlined clearly in the master plan. It does not list any intention for Webster University to expand into the Pasadena Webster subdivision in the next fifteen to twenty years.

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