After a 9-0 vote, the Webster Groves city council continued the trend of previous public hearings and extended the public discussion of the educational zoning ordinance 8851 to the next city council meeting on Dec. 2.
After a discussion with Eden Theological Seminary at the Nov. 18 hearing, the Webster Groves city council turned its attention to Webster University. Webster Groves Mayor Gerry Welch and the council had heard multiple public hearings on the proposed educational zoning ordinance 8851 and has received public and written testimony from the public, Eden and Webster.
Welch started the discussion with Webster the same way the council began the discussion with Eden: What is it that the university cannot do under the proposed ordinance?
Lawyers and representatives speaking on behalf of the university that night, Gerard Carmody and Traci Pupillo explained to the council the flexibility to work with Eden and lease property from the seminary would not be allowed under the proposed ordinance. That is when Councilmember Anne Tolan intervened.
Pupillo said she has never seen a draft of ordinance 8851 that allows said flexibility.
“I know you guys are saying you’re going to allow the leasing of space but that wasn’t in the last draft and so we got this new draft and its not in this draft either,” Pullio said.
But Welch disagreed, saying the abilities of Webster to lease classroom space, administrative offices and dorms from Eden were stated in the ordinance. Welch asked Pupillo what else has the council not fixed for the university. Pupillo responded that the things she had mentioned had not been fixed.
Pupillo said the university wants to be able to collaborate with Eden in the future and have an opportunity to be able to lease space. Then Welch cut her off.
“Are you asking to use the Eden campus for building buildings? Is that what you’re asking for? That Webster University wants to go across the street and be able to build dormitories across the street. Is that what you’re asking,” Welch asked.
Pupillo said no and stated that, in the past, Webster had been able to collaborate with Eden and the neighbors of the university to meet its needs. She said Webster and Eden should be placed in the same district, whereas in the proposed ordinance, they are placed separately.
Council reiterates Webster’s ability under ordinance
Aside from the placing of the Eden and Webster in the same district, Tolan wanted to know what else could the university want from the proposed ordinance. She said, as it is written currently, the proposed ordinance allows the university to implement its master plan and not have open space and parking requirements be in conflict with one another.
“And we have changed the ordinance to allow the leasing of classroom space, administrative space and dorm space on the Eden campus,” Tolan said.
Circular discussion on the Interdisciplinary Science Building
Towards the end of Webster’s discussion with the city council, Welch asked if there were any other questions. Councilmember Greg Mueller asked if Webster understood why the university and Eden were zoned differently. He reiterated the university was zoned EC-3 because they possessed 50 students-per-acre and Eden was labeled EC-2 because they possessed less than ten students-per-acre.
Carmody asked if are there any two institutions more similar than Eden and webster.
“How is it that a city that has blessed (the collaboration between Eden and Webster) for almost a century is now saying, ‘Lets do whatever we can to (stop) it,’” Carmody said.
Carmody said for years, the city has not seen fit to place a new zoning ordinance on the two institutions.
“Yet for whatever reason today, after we went through the (Conditional Use Permit) process and Judge Seigal entered his order reversing this council. We have a moratorium on (the interdisciplinary science building), no CUP’s granted, and we’re here tonight, a year later, fighting this fight,” Carmody said.
Tolan said the moratorium explicitly excluded the two projects the council knew were important to the university; the parking garage and the interdisciplinary science building. She said the council took it very seriously.
Pupillio said the moratorium did not exclude the Interdisciplinary Science Building (IDS) from having any zoning ordinances made applicable to it.
Welch responded by saying the ordinance did not affect the university from constructing the IDS.
“This is another one of these circular arguments. I don’t know how many ways we can tell the university you can build the science building. We have put it in the ordinance, we have been sending you letters,” Welch said.
City attorney Helmut Starr said the university has had a full year to apply for a CUP that would allow Webster to build the IDS.
“Quit blaming the zoning amendments on your lack of movement on the building,” Starr said.
Eden’s question of the council
While Webster may not have seen clarity in the ordinance’s language of their flexibility, Eden Theological Seminary did not see the clarity of the council’s true intentions for the small college.
Eden President David Greenhaw felt the council was not trying to consider the interests of Eden or Webster University. Instead, Greenhaw said it felt to him that the city council wants to accommodate Eden, but at the same time, wants to use Eden’s as a buffer to prevent Webster from crossing Lockwood Avenue.
In the ordinance’s proposal, Webster and Eden would be zoned in different ways, which both Webster and Eden fear would prevent them from collaborating with one another. In prior public hearings, Webster said they would be open to using the forms on Eden’s campus.
“If that is what you’re doing, I think that is fundamentally unfair to us,” Greenhaw said. “If you’re just using us as a buffer, you are hurting us in ways that is fundamentally wrong.”