The Webster Groves city council voted to grant Webster University a conditional use permit (CUP,)…
Residents torn on expansion
Webster University and Eden Seminary filed suit against the City of Webster Groves last Wednesday, Sept. 18. The lawsuit is an objection to the City Council’s refusal of a conditional use permit (CUP) for the use of buildings on Eden’s property by the university.
Scott and Renee Petty are part of the community of Webster Groves resident who believe the university should be stopped from expanding onto Eden. The Pettys have lived in Webster Groves their whole life. While they value having Webster University in Webster Groves, they do not want the city to become a college town.
“People in Webster (Groves) are here because they like the way it is, and we don’t want Webster (Groves) to be Webster University. We want to be a community of families that share their lives together,” Renee Petty said.
Adam Cook, Webster Groves High School Class of 1987, grew up in Webster Groves as well. Cook said he thinks a lawsuit is a “desperate measure,” and the city should allow the university to expand.
“Webster (University) is a great asset to the community and I don’t know why they would want to obstruct the university,” Cook said.
When the City Council voted to turn down the CUP presented by Webster University and Eden in August, Mayor Gerry Welch said the issue of Webster University expanding onto the Eden property is part of a bigger issue. Welch said the community is concerned Webster University will continue buying up houses.
Renee Petty had much of the same sentiments. She said expansion onto Eden is just another step towards encroachment on her neighborhood, and fears the university will not stop expanding after Eden.
Welch said Webster University would be more likely to be approved for a CUP for use of Eden property if the university would assure the community it would not continue to buy up surrounding residential properties.
“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,” Welch said at last August’s City Council meeting. “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.”
The residential houses the university bought on Big Bend and Catalina have been turned into rental homes, according to documents obtained by The Journal. At a meeting between city council members, the university and Eden’s representatives last year, Webster University Chief Financial Officer Greg Gunderson said the university wants those homes to be a buffer between the university and the community.
Renee Petty said she has other concerns.
“Pretty soon they’re going to need a buffer for their buffer,” Renee said.
While the Pettys said they feels the university’s suit is taking the issue too far, Cook said he thinks the university has every right to expand onto Eden.
“I feel like the city is being backwards about this,” Cook said. “I mean, they need to let the university expand a little bit, and stop being ridiculous and let them go across the street.”
Scott Petty said he thinks Webster University and Eden should respect the decision of the City Council to block the use of property on Eden’s campus by the university. He said this lawsuit is bringing the issue down to who has more money and thinks it is unfortunate for the community.
“If they (Webster University and Eden) have higher finances that Webster (Groves) doesn’t have, then that means they’ll probably win, and that’s not going to be good community relations,” Scott Petty said.