As he stood at the podium during a Webster Groves’ City Plan Commission on June 2, Webster Groves resident Frank Janoski told the council members he had not planned on speaking prior to the meeting. But after listening to public comments made by residents, Janoski changed his mind.
“I think the (judge’s) decision is wrong and I hope the city (of Webster Groves) appeals. I think the city council is correct,” Janoski said. “Number two, I have not seen such selfishness by institutions before not caring about what residents around them consider or think.”
Webster University Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Greg Gunderson said that despite the use of Eden Theological Seminary facility, Webster University’s acquiring of a conditional use permit (CUP) will benefit both the students and Webster Groves residents.
“We continue to believe firmly, that a single zone covering the Eden Seminary and the Webster College historic district, which has been in place for decades, will enable us to serve our students by adhering to the highest objectives within the field of higher education by also meeting the needs of the community,” Gunderson said.
On May 22, Judge Mark Seigel reversed Webster Groves City Council’s decision to deny Webster University a conditional use permit (CUP). According to a March 5 article from The Journal, Webster University sought to acquire a CUP in August 2013 to grant them use of Eden Theological Seminary’s Luhr Library and Wehrli House, as well as tear down the seminary’s White House.
Janoski said he has heard Gunderson speak of intensity to better serve their education. But Janoski said he viewed Webster University’s intensity as taking away tax dollars from residents.
“The more students they have, the more money they make. The more they expand, the more they take away from our tax space. And who pays that; the taxpayers,” Janoski said.
Webster Groves resident Grant Williams was concerned with the way taxpayer money was spent by the city to defend itself in the lawsuit.
“I think I speak for a lot of people; spending our money and suing (Webster), harassing them, making their lives hard when they bring in young people and jobs and good energy in our neighborhood. People would die to have that in their neighborhood,” Williams said. “Who gives (city council) the right to do that and take our money and harass an institution like that?”
City Attorney Helmut Starr clarified to Williams that the use of the taxpayer money spent during the lawsuit was justified. Starr said when the residents of a city elect a council, the council “has the right and authority to make decisions whether to sue or be sued.”
“In this particular case, actually, Webster University and Eden sued the city and the city merely defended the decision of the city council,” Starr said. “The city paid the first $5,000 of that and the rest was paid by an insurance policy.”
Judge Seigel’s ruling calls for Webster Groves to grant Webster University a CUP within 60 days of the ruling. Regardless of the ruling, Jack Pirozzi voiced his disappointment in the working relationship between the city and the school by quoting the Oscar-winning actress, Greer Garson.
“Change is optional, progress is not,” Pirozzi said.
The next Webster Groves City Plan Commission meeting is July 7.