Seventy-one percent of Webster Groves residents believe the City Council should allow the university to use buildings on Eden Theological Seminary’s campus, according to a survey of 404 residents commissioned by Webster University and Eden.
The survey, released on Oct. 29, conducted by Stakeholder Insights, was used as an attempt to measure and evaluate community sentiment on the City Council’s decision to deny Webster University use of Luhr Library and Wehrli Center. While 71 percent of residents disagreed with the Councils decision, 11 percent agreed with the decision and 18 percent did not know or were undecided.
On Aug. 20, Webster Groves City Council voted 4-3 to reject an application for a conditional use permit (CUP) for Webster University to repurpose Luhr Library and the Wehrli Center for university use and demolish Eden’s White House. The city denied the bill after the city’s Plan Commission unanimously recommended the city grant the CUP to the university.
“I am upset about our inability to arrive at a collaboration that will work for both the city and the university,” said Mayor Gerry Welch. “We value the university. The university is an important part of the community.”
Welch said the lawsuit Webster University and Eden filed against the city on Sept. 19 has made it difficult for the city to have a conversation with the institutions.
“This issue is over a conditional use permit that I was hoping we would have the ability to resolve at this table,” Welch said. “Once a lawsuit is thrown at you, you lose the ability to sit together at a table.”
Webster Groves resident Frank Janoski was one of the three speakers at the Nov. 5 city council remarks of visitors. He said he hopes the Council will not give in to Webster University and Eden’s “tactics.”
“I wanted to express my disappointment over the conduct of institutions that claim to be ‘good samaritans,’” Janoski said. “They apparently believe that bullying tactics and spreading of misinformation is acceptable conduct for trying to get their way.”
Councilmember Kathy Hart addressed the issue of the CUP denial at the Nov. 6 City Council meeting. She said there was nothing else the Council could do about the application.
“When there’s a CUP application that comes through for the city, we apply the legal standards and apply the law to the CUP application as it comes to us,” Hart said. “That is what we did. There’s nothing else we can do about that application.”
Webster Groves has 23,056 residents, according to the 2012 United States Census. The 404 residents were surveyed through a randomly selected telephone sample of Webster Groves residents from Oct. 10 to 27. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent, according to a Webster University press release.
Lisa Richter, managing director of Stakeholder Insights, said it was clear the City Council was “out of step” after only 11 percent of the 404 Webster Groves residents who were surveyed agreed with the decision to deny Webster University’s CUP for buildings across Lockwood.
Residents surveyed were asked whether they thought City Council should allow the university to use Luhr Library and the Wehrli Center, based on background information provided by the surveyor.
“The purpose of the survey was to find out what the community’s opinions were,” said Webster University Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin. “We felt this was the most accurate way to see what the residents thought about the issue.”
Giblin said the survey would not affect the lawsuit between the university, Eden and the City of Webster Groves. He said the survey would not be admissible in the lawsuit.
Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees for Eden Susan Stepleton said Webster University and Eden students have been crossing Lockwood for centuries using both institutions’ buildings.
“It made sense for us to sell the buildings to Webster University – we were no longer using them, and they needed the space. It’s a shame they are sitting vacant,” Stepleton said in a Webster University press release.
Stakeholder Insights is a St. Louis based firm that conducts research through telephone and online surveys, one-on-one interviews, focus groups, ethnographic studies and mystery shopping. They have also conducted research for Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and St. Louis College of Pharmacy.