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Council hears from supporters, opponents of wedding center off McClay Road

At its July 11 meeting, St. Charles County Council heard from supporters and opponents of a proposed rezoning of a 10.25-acre site off McClay Road that would allow a banquet and wedding center.

A bill was introduced at the July 11 meeting that would change the rezoning from residential single-family to commercial and a planned unit development [PUD] designation for the property.

The council took no action on the bill, instead listening to audience comments for and against the commercial rezoning and PUD. They also heard from County Counselor Keith Hazelwood, who briefed the council on the PUD process. The council could take action on the bill at their July 25 meeting.

Ruth Choate and Michael Stanford, the owners of the property, are seeking the rezoning and PUD to develop the tract as banquet center to hold showers and what Choate called “elegant” weddings.

Choate said the property was purchased in 2013 largely to save a historic 192-year-old stone house and a 70-year-old barn. She said the main purpose was to open up the historic house to the public and the banquet center would support upkeep of the home.

The tract is located on the north side of McClay Road, about 400 feet east of St. Peters Road, and about 300 feet north of McClay Road. Slightly more than 8 acres of the tract would used to develop a banquet center with parking, with about two acres left over for residential use.

The property, which features green space and trees, is largely surrounded by residential homes with some residents worried about loud wedding parties and drinking disturbing the neighborhood and the lowering of their property values.

On June 15, the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted 8-1 in favor of the rezoning. The commission’s recommendation went to the council.

Residents opposed to the rezoning repeated their concerns about noise and disturbance at the July 11 council meeting.

“We got blindsided,” said Lisa Portilla, a resident whose home abuts the tract. She and other residents said they feared the center would feature loud music and cater to crowds of 200-500 attendees, some of whom may be drinking and driving, and hurt property values.

“We are here asking you, our council, our county executive, our leaders, to protect us,” Portilla said.

But not all residents where opposed. Kathy Curneal, whose home also backs up to the property, said traffic is already heavy on McClay and St. Peters-Howell roads. In addition, she said nearby ball fields have bright lights and a nearby Elks Lodge hosts weddings and other events.

“We’re okay with it,” she said.

Hazelwood discussed the PUD process with the councilmembers, because PUDs rarely come before them. The PUD process is actually a three-step process with a zoning decision and “concept plan” coming to the council as a first step.

If the council rejects the rezoning and PUD, the process ends, Hazelwood said. If the council approves the PUD and rezoning, Choate and Sanford have a year to submit a preliminary plat and final development plan to the Planning and Zoning Commission and Planning Department for review, Hazelwood said.

If the Planning and Zoning Commission rejects the preliminary plat and development plan, the petitioner can still go back to the council for a final decision. The preliminary plat and development plan can also go before the council if a nearby municipality within a mile and a half of the property files a protest resolution. The third step is a final plat that is reviewed by the county’s planning staff and possibly the Planning and Zoning Commission, but not the council.

In response to a question from Councilman Michael Klinghammer [District 6], Hazelwood said the PUD designation and rezoning would apply to the property if it were sold. He said the property would not be open for other commercial uses. The new property owner could, through county review, file for other commercial uses of the property.

Hazelwood also said the current zoning could allow 7,000-square-foot, single-family detached homes to be developed on the property. That could amount to about five lots per acre.

In their recommendation in June, the county planning staff recommended that the rezoning request and concept plan be denied, citing land use conflicts.

Robert Myers, the county’s planning and zoning director, however, said the project showed promise and the staff could revise their recommendation if the owners responded to staff comments. Myers said the property owners have agreed to five of six comments to address encroachment and access issues.

They hadn’t responded to the planning staff’s major concern of relocating a proposed timber-framed pavilion at least 200 feet from neighboring residents, Myers said.

Choate said the old house would not be used as a banquet center, but for small weddings. Some large weddings could occur, she said. The Elks Lodge property nearby has been holding weddings and special events for years, she said.

She said engineering studies suggest that moving the center building 200 feet away from all properties may not be feasible.

The banquet facility would be built with materials that will be soundproof and have a nearby storage area would further limit noise to two property owners 110 feet or less from the facility. She said she is willing to build a fence or berm to further limit impact on the two properties.

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