Correction: This story originally stated that Webster University purchased property at Eden in 2009. The university actually purchased the property in 2010.
Webster University and Eden Theological Seminary filed suit against the City of Webster Groves on Wednesday, Sept. 18. The university and seminary are seeking damages for what the institutions allege to be the city’s unlawful decision to deny the university and Eden’s application for a conditional use permit (CUP).
In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Gerard Carmody, attorney for Webster University, said “The primary objective is to get the court to reverse what we consider an unlawful decision. Failing that, we seek to have a jury decide the damages which we will incur, which we believe may exceed $5 million.” The university and the seminary are also seeking to recoup interest and fees.
According the lawsuit, the university and Eden applied for a CUP in March 2013 that would have enabled Webster to repurpose several buildings on Eden’s campus for university activities. The university sought to use the Wehrli Center as a meeting space for Alumni Association and Faculty Senate, as well as demolish the White House. The university also sought to repurpose the Luhr Library as a home for the university chess team and office space for Information Technology personnel.
The CUP was approved by the Webster Groves Plan Commission and forwarded to City Council. On Aug. 20, City Council voted 4-3 to turn down the university’s application for a conditional use permit.
“This decision, which was not supported by an record evidence that the CUP would violate the criteria in the City’s own Zoning Code, condemns the properties to remaining vacant indefinitely and severely diminishes the value of Webster University’s and Eden’s properties,” the suit alleges.
Webster and Eden also claim the denial effectively bars Eden from ever selling, leasing or otherwise conveying its interest in these properties to anyone.
The university paid $5.3 million to purchase the Eden properties in Dec. 2010, properties which are of “no value” to the university in their current state, according to the court document.
Webster and Eden’s lawsuit against the city is the latest development in a saga between the institutions and the city. Since Webster University announced its intentions to expand across Lockwood Avenue, the university has faced resistance from several Webster Groves residents and the City Council.
To learn more about the contentious history between the university, seminary and city, click the links below. And check out the print edition of The Journal Wednesday to read reaction to the lawsuit from stakeholders.