Student Government Co-President at Eden Theological Seminary Brad Gebben believes the Webster Groves City Council’s decision on Aug. 20 to block Webster University from using properties on Eden’s campus is detrimental to both institutions.
“They are stopping the advancement of two academic universities, Eden and Webster, from becoming better and becoming grander than what they are now,” Gebben said. “(They’re stopping) for a couple of people who don’t want rowdy kids and don’t want advancement in their town.”
Webster University purchased properties from Eden Theological Seminary for around $5 million in 2010. Since then, the buildings have remained unused.
Eden and the university applied for a conditional use permit (CUP) in 2013 to repurpose the buildings for university activities. On Aug. 20 the Webster Groves City Council voted 4-3 against the CUP.
Eden and the university’s attorney Gerard Carmody said this is an unnecessary attempt to keep the university from expanding.
“I think the message, unfortunately, is ‘we would rather sit vacant and watch them deteriorate rather than let Webster University use them,’” Carmody said.
Eden has already received compensation for the properties that the university now owns.
While trying to understand why the City Council and some members of the community opposed the university expansion, Gebben found one common idea.
“A term that I’m seeing a lot is ‘Webster University tactics.’ Like this is some overarching metanarrative scheme to control all of Webster Groves, and to push out all the residents, and to basically take over everything so they have all this giant room to become this giant university,” Gebben said. “I could understand a fear like that, if it was based in reality.”
Eden President David Greenhaw said in a previous interview with The Journal that he saw the Council’s decision as unwarranted.
According to Webster Groves’ zoning code, the Council will look at five parameters: increase in traffic hazards, increase in fire hazards, adverse effect on character of the community, adverse effect on the general welfare of the community and if it is overtaxing public utilities.
“To be more restrictive than those five areas seems, to me, unreasonable and unwarranted,” Greenhaw said. “The city has elected to be more restrictive.”
Greenhaw was unable to comment further while the case is in litigation.
An ally of the community
Gebben said the relationship between Eden and the community of Webster Groves is strong. But issues arise when the City Council becomes involved. Gebben sees the decision to deny the CUP as unfair and biased.
“(Eden students) feel that there’s been an injustice done. We talk about justice from a theological perspective so it’s always on our mind,” Gebben said.
When Gebben first heard about the lawsuit, he wanted Eden students to get more involved in the discussion. As of now, he said he doesn’t know of any students who have attended any City Council meetings or planning and zoning meetings about the CUP.
“The first thought I had when I read the paper was ‘where can the students be involved? Where is the student voice? Where is the student protest or picket lines?’” Gebben said. ”We (Eden students) have not been too huge in that role, but I can guarantee that we will be there.”
Gebben said the current plan for Eden students is to focus on their classes, but when the time comes, the students are ready to show up in mass to garner community support. He said he will be working with Greenhaw to see how to best utilize students
Gebben believes Eden’s biggest ally is the community that he says the students serve.
“We are gonna be there getting our massive community support within our local area churches, and local area congregations and contextual education placements on board with us on this issue,” Gebben said.