The St. Charles County Council voted unanimously at its May 21 meeting to turn down a controversial proposal to allow a trash transfer station to be built near the Family Arena. At the same meeting, the council agreed to another delay of a final vote on a proposed subdivision in the heavily forested area near the Missouri Bluffs Golf Club near Interstate 64 – another controversial project.
Councilmembers said the delay may allow county officials to work with developer Greg Whittaker to further revise the subdivision plan toward something more palatable to nearby residents and environmental groups who have vehemently opposed it.
Final action on both proposals has been delayed for months.
On May 21, the council chambers at the old courthouse in St. Charles was standing room only with more than 230 people, well beyond the room’s posted 180-persons seating capacity. The council wasted little time in disposing of the transfer station, which was first on the agenda. The decision came months after the county’s planning and zoning commission voted 9-0 last November to recommend denial to the council.
In dismissing the trash transfer station request, Chairman Dave Hammond [District 4] said the council was voting on accepting findings of fact and conclusions of law to deny the conditional use permit, both of which were finalized before a circuit court judge.
With no discussion, the board voted 7-0 to accept the findings, which affirmed the denial of the conditional use permit. The vote was greeted with loud applause before about half the audience left.
Approval of the conditional use permit would have been a step toward the transfer station becoming a reality on 8.07 acres along Arena Parkway and South River Road, near the Family Arena and the Katy Trail. According to Metro Fill Development’s proposal, the station would have been a place where trash would be consolidated and not a landfill. Regardless, residents stated concerns about smells, truck traffic and the station’s impact on property values.
The Whittaker/Missouri Bluffs proposal involves a rezoning application for a largely-tree covered 386.52-acre tract, located south of the Missouri Research Park, west of I-64 and north of the Missouri River, to R1-A planned unit development.
The multi-phased development began with a proposed 315 single-family and 120 multi-family units. However, those numbers have changed over the past several months.
The changes came when the developers – Missouri Bluffs Golf Ventures and NT Home Builders, headed by Whittaker – ran into vehement opposition from nearby residents and environmental groups worried about the impact of the development on the Katy Trail.
The University of Missouri owns the land and has indicated it would sell the property to the developers with the approval of an acceptable zoning and concept plan. Meanwhile, while the council postpones, the county’s planning and zoning commission did vote [8-1 in March] to recommend denial of the concept plan, saying it was a good potential development but inappropriate for the site. Because of the commission’s vote, five of seven councilmembers have to vote to approve the plan for it to be approved.
While the decision on the transfer station took less than 10 minutes, the council opted for a lengthy discussion concerning the Bluffs proposal ultimately agreeing to again postpone a final vote to allow the county and developer Greg Whittaker more time to revise the plan to make it more acceptable to residents and environmental groups.
Before they made that decision, the council heard from supporters and opponents of the proposal during the public comment portion of the meeting including from a former president of the University of Missouri Board Of Curators.
Connie Burkhardt, co-founder of Katy Land Trust, a nonprofit organization supporting preservation along the Katy Trail, was appointed as a UM curator in 1999 and later served as that body’s president. Burkhardt said if any of the curators had walked the Bluffs property they would be distraught. She also questioned how the university solicited offers for and its review of the property.
“As a former curator I can tell you that the university didn’t do its job and they have made yours extremely difficult,” Burkhardt said. She urged the council to sustain the planning and zoning commission recommendation and send the university back to the drawing board. “This is a fragile bluff, it’s time to call theirs.”
Brad Goss, an attorney representing NT Home Builders, LLC, noted “significant” changes, made since the council last discussed the plan in April, were done in response to concerns by residents, councilmembers and environmentalists. The minimum lot size for single-family homes has been increased to 15,000 square feet from 7,500 square feet; the number of single-family lots has been reduced to 238 from 289; and the number of multi-family lots proposed has been increased to 100 from 73 villas.
Goss said the project is now less dense and far different than the proposal that planning and zoning commission voted on. “A non-disturbance buffer” has been established around the entire site and the Katy Trail will not be impacted, he said.
He added that extensive stormwater work would be implemented along with measures to reduce non-native plants. He asked that the council continue to table the plan so the developer can continue to work to make it more acceptable.
The council ultimately agreed.
Councilmember Joe Brazil [ District 1] said he had “mixed emotions” on the proposal. The university acquired the property in 1948 for $1 as federal surplus property and could be sold after 20 years. And the county’s legal team has told the council that the university has the legal right to sell the property.
Brazil said the county has to consider that it could lose total control if the rezoning and plan are turned down or withdrawn, or if local municipalities annex the property or the university chooses to develop it on its own. “So we have to play a chess game here. If we do nothing, then what else is going to happen,” Brazil said. Brazil said he would favor lowering the density by requiring three-acre lots.
Councilmember Mike Klinghammer [District 6] asked County Counselor Keith Hazelwood if the university could develop the property on its own with little county oversite. Hazelwood replied that the county’s planning and zoning authority would be limited but its building codes would still apply.
Hammond said it’s “a nice development” and he supported it. “What they are planning there is $600,000 to $800,000 homes,” Hammond said. He said he wouldn’t support it if he felt the development was a threat to the Katy Trail.
Councilmember Terry Hollander [District 5] said he was concerned that no one from the Francis Howell School District, where the development would be located, had weighed in with an opinion on the development. The developer has said that the district would receive, according to conservative estimates, $1.64 million annually in related tax revenue.
Hollander also commended Whittaker for being willing to work with the county but noted that the development is difficult given the hilly terrain where houses would be built. “The question I keep coming back to is can they pull this off,” he said.
Councilmember Joe Cronin [District 1] also praised the developer for trying to make the development more palatable but said he hasn’t liked it from the beginning. He questioned how the university has handled the potential sale of the land and said a dialogue should be established with the university’s Board of Curators to explore other options.
Councilmember Mike Elam [District 3] praised Whittaker for his development of New Town in St. Charles. “I think they are really good developers; I really hate where they want to build this though,” Elam said, adding that he was a “no” vote on the proposal.
He said if the plan doesn’t happen, those opposed to the development need to step up, get involved and let the university know what should happen with the land. “If it does get voted down, don’t you dare go away,” he said.
Klinghammer, who said he had received 200 emails on the Bluffs proposal, made a motion to announce at a preceding meeting exactly when the council planned to take action on the proposal. This would help in notifying residents, he said.
Cronin said he would like to postpone any decision until he attends a University of Missouri Board of Curators meeting June 21-22 in Columbia.
“I think there is a possibility that we can have our cake and eat it, too,” Cronin said. “And maybe we can make everybody happy. I don’t want to see a situation where you have winners and losers.”
The council voted to table the bill again and approved the motion stating that it would announce the vote on the Whittaker proposal at a council meeting before it is scheduled to happen.