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St. Charles County Council approves McClay Mansion plat, final plan

Historic McClay House

The approvals and permits are nearly in place for a controversial wedding and banquet center being developed on a 10.25-acre tract off of McClay Road in St. Charles County that includes a 193-year-old historic home.

Now the focus may shift to what will be built on the tract, particularly an ornate 7,200-square-foot building by a company that specializes in largely hand-crafted barns, custom homes and large buildings.

Ruth Choate and Michael Stanford sought something unique when it came to the wedding and banquet center. They found B & D Barn Builders, a company from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which offers custom building work and has connections with the Mennonite religious community, they said.

Mennonites are a diverse group whose members sometimes adopt conservative, and often 19th century, clothing similar to the Amish, although they are separate groups. They are known for their barn-building and woodworking skills.

“We went up there to Pennsylvania and met with them and just fell in love with it,” Choate said. “They are amazing in what work they do.”

A sawmill and forge will arrive on site via four 18-wheel trucks. The house will feature curved trusses, a 31-foot-high ceiling and the building will featured hand-forged iron hardware. “It’s going to blow people away,” she said.

Choate and Stanford say they will house and feed the company’s work crews while they put up the barn, starting in June. The barn is expected to be finished by Aug. 18 – the date of the first scheduled wedding. Choate said she has 26 weddings scheduled, which will be held on weekends.

The crews will be housed in the nearby historic stone house. “They are all excited to stay in a stone house,” Choate said. She said workers and company members have seen pictures and they are thinking of bringing their wives. “They said they are not used to such fancy accommodations,” she said.

Choate spoke enthusiastically about the building after the St. Charles County Council took action at its March 27 meeting on an issue that moves the development one step closer to reality. The council unanimously approved a preliminary plat and final development plan for the site, to be known as the “McClay Mansion.”

Plat and plan approval is one of the final steps before construction can begin to develop the site. The county still must issue a building permit and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also has to issue a permit for a bridge planned to span a small creek.

The approvals are the latest chapter of a lengthy review process and contentious debate that started last year over development of the property, which is in the middle of a residential area.

Choate and Stanford requested to rezone the property from residential single-family to a planned unit development [PUD] designation that allows commercial development on about eight acres and residential on two acres for their own home. They wanted to develop the eight acres as a banquet center to hold bridal showers and weddings.

The tract is located on the north side of McClay Road, about 400 feet east of St. Peters-Howell Road and about 300 feet north of McClay. The property features green space and trees and is largely surrounded by homes. The stone house and a 70-year-old barn are the property’s major features.

Choate said the property was restored after it was purchased in 2013. She said she wants to open up the historic house to the public and the banquet center would support upkeep of the property.

The old house will not be used for banquets and the center would be built with materials that limit noise, Choate said. She said the center was not a party center but a place for “elegant weddings.”

The banquet center plans were not supported by some residents, who said traffic is already heavy on McClay and St. Peters-Howell roads and nearby ball fields have bright lights and a nearby Elks Lodge hosts weddings and other events.

Some of these residents said after the meeting that they are looking into filing suit to reverse the decision, which several called “spot zoning” – allowing an inappropriate commercial property in a residential area.

Last September, the council approved a rezoning request for the property that has gone back and forth between the council and the county’s planning and zoning commission over the last several months.

A procedural error delayed approval and it had to be heard twice by the county’s planning and zoning commission before the September approval. With a planned unit development overlay district approved as part of the zoning, the property owners had to submit a preliminary plat and final development plan to the planning and zoning commission for review.

The county’s planning and zoning commission recommended the council approve the preliminary plat and final development plan at its Feb. 15 meeting.

A nearby property owner, Lisa Portilla, wrote a letter to the commission objecting to approving the plat and plan because of a concern that a historic cemetery might be disturbed. County officials said there was no clear evidence of a burial site. Under state law, it would be up the property owner and developer to properly handle any marked or unmarked graves, they said.

Choate said work on the site will include the new center, parking and landscaping, which may cost more than $3 million.

“I think it’s going to be one of the most beautiful places in Missouri to get married,” she said. “I think it’s going to be one of the most beautiful places in the United States to get married and it’s right here in St. Charles County.”

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