Webster University and Eden Theological Seminary are no longer zoned in the same category after a Jan. 6 vote to pass both educational zoning ordinances 8851 and 8852. Webster Groves city council passed both ordinances with a 6-1 vote.
Eden is now zoned EC-1, which is categorized as educational campus zoning and requires the seminary to have 50 percent open space. Webster is now zoned EC-2, which is categorized as major educational zoning and requires the university to have 30 percent open space.
University President Elizabeth Stroble said in a statement addressed to Webster Groves Mayor Gerry Welch and the city council members that the university is disappointed with the outcome.
Stroble wrote she would take the council “at their word” when they said the newly-passed ordinances would permit Webster to move forward with projects outlined in the university’s 2012 Master Plan.
The projects Stroble listed include:
- Occupancy of Luhr Library and Wehrli Center
- Creating left turn lane at the Edgar Road and Garden Avenue intersection
- Addition to parking garage
- Construction of electric substation
- Renovations to Sverdrup Building
- Construction of the Interdiciplinary Science Building
“These projects are essential,” Stroble wrote in her statement. She mentioned the projects represent a forward-looking future for not only the students and the university, but for the Webster Groves community as well. Stroble quoted a Forbes Magazine article that lists the top 25 retirement communities, saying one-third of those communities had institutions of higher education.
Before Stroble’s statement was released, Welch read her own statement aloud during the council meeting.
“The council values and appreciates its educational institutions and the contributions they make to the students they serve and the community. But the council is responsible for the welfare of this entire city (of Webster Groves) and must set policies that balance the interests of many of its constituents,” Welch said.
Before the voting began, Councilmember Ken Burns made his voting intention known to the council.
“I just wanted to state that, although I believe I am in a small minority of councilmembers, that I will be voting not to approve (8851),” Burns said.
Burns said he felt the ordinance singled out the two institutions and that it was unfair of the council to require specific amounts of open space on both properties. He said the open space requirements could prohibit future improvements on these campuses.
“No substantive uncontrolled expansion of these institutions without city input has ever occurred in Webster Groves,” Burns said.
In her read-aloud statement after the vote, Welch said the open space requirements would not burden Eden or Webster.
“Eden, for example, can double the size of its buildings, reducing its current open space from 77 percent to 50 percent. Webster University can accommodate its growth with a reduction in open space from its current 53 percent to 30 percent,” Welch said.
Welch said ordinance 8851 allows for the expansion of educational institutions without going through cumbersome processes, acquisition of a conditional use permit (CUP) or public hearings.
Under 8851, Welch said, institutions can lease space on their campuses to other entities. But despite the assurance from the council, Stroble said the concern for collaboration with Eden lies down the road.
“I think it’s much more of the future focus that is the concern, not that it stops things that are in motion now,” Stroble said after a Jan. 20 city council meeting.
More work on 8854
After a month of tabled public discussion, the city council moved to extend the public hearing on a third educational zoning ordinance 8854. Welch said after the work session held prior to the council meeting, the council agreed to continue working on the ordinance.
Under ordinance 8854, educational institutions in EC-1 or EC-2 would need to submit a master plan and site plan to the city council for approval before they were allowed to lease out property or lease property from another institution. The ordinance would also place a cap on the amount of property or building space an educational institution could lease out.
Although she announced changes would be made to the ordinance, Welch still allowed public comments on the ordinance.
Eden President David Greenhaw expressed that one of the changes that needed to be made was the language of the ordinance.
“I tried myself to read (8854) carefully. I, myself, don’t quite understand it,” Greenhaw said.
Gary Feder, Eden’s attorney, said such regulation requiring a 35 percent cap on leasing of property and buildings seemed to be unnatural and illegal regulation.
Stroble said after the meeting that the percentages would be difficult to determine and even more difficult to apply.
“So is that 35 percent of a building? How would you lease 35 percent of the Loretto-Hilton in any meaningful,” Stroble said. “I do think there is real question marks about taking language that clearly was kind of anticipated in 8851 and 8852 to apply to Eden and now sort of moving across the street and having it apply to Webster.”
Webster’s lawyer Traci Pupillo said after the meeting that from a legal perspective, she takes issue with the idea that leasing can be limited in general.
“Under zoning laws, you can regulate uses. Leasing is a form of ownership,” Pupillo said.
Before the proposal of ordinance 8854, Stroble said Webster wanted to lease out their property, the university would agree to terms with the institution and there would be no city involvement, if the use was temporary.