The third time was the charm for a controversial proposal to build subdivision homes in the forested Missouri Bluffs area along the Missouri River.
But many of the 50 or more people that filled the County Council’s chambers for its June 25 meeting were not charmed by the outcome. In fact, many lustily booed after the council voted 5-1 to approve the rezoning and developer Greg Whittaker’s plan to develop the property. Five of seven councilmembers had to vote in favor to approve the rezoning and Planned Unit Development [PUD]. Councilmember Joe Cronin [District 2] abstained.
“Shame on you,” said a resident loudly on his way out of the meeting. “Politics and money bought every one of you up there,” said another. “Thank you, Mike,” said a resident referring to Councilmember Mike Elam [District 3], who cast the lone “no” vote.
The council had delayed votes at its April 30 and May 21 meetings, allowing the developers – Missouri Bluffs Golf Ventures and NT Home Builders, headed by Whittaker – to revise the proposal.
At its May 21 meeting, the council approved a motion stating that it would announce when a vote would take place at the council meeting before that vote was scheduled to occur. The council announced at its June 11 meeting that it was expected to vote on the controversial proposal on June 25, giving notice as it said it would.
Since it was proposed last year, the plan had run into vehement and continuous opposition from nearby residents and environmental groups worried about the impact of the development on the Katy Trail and the natural beauty of the area.
The University of Missouri, which owns the ground, has indicated they would sell the property to the developers with the approval of an acceptable zoning and concept plan. The proposal involved a rezoning from agricultural to R1-A PUD for a largely-tree covered, 386.52-acre tract adjacent to the Missouri Bluffs Golf Course and located south of the Missouri Research Park, west of Interstate 64 and north of the Missouri River. The rezoning included a detailed site plan for the property.
The county’s planning and zoning commission voted 8-1 in March to recommend denial of the original Whittaker plan. Commissioners said it was a good potential development but inappropriate for the site.
The multi-phased development began with a plan, submitted last December, that proposed 315 single-family and 120 multi-family units. That proposal was scaled back until what the council voted on included a proposed 140 single-family homes and up to 136 multi-family units.
The approved plan also includes extensive conservation restrictions on tracts of land, particularly on southern portion of the site, that will limit tree cutting and serve as buffers between the development and the Katy Trail. Homes also were moved away from a nearby Zoltek plant facility.
The councilmembers who voted for the rezoning and plan said they were pleased with the changes made by the developers.
“This subdivision has more restrictions – and I have been on the council for 18 years – than any other subdivision we have ever granted,” said Councilmember Joe Brazil [District 1].
The university has property rights to do what it wants with its property, he said. He added that the county’s attorneys warned the council that if it rejected Whittaker’s plan, the University of Missouri could do whatever they wanted with the ground without a review or oversight by the county because a state agency supersedes local government authority.
Councilmember Terry Hollander [District 5] said the he thought the project now would have no impact on the Katy Trail and the university has a right to sell its property.
Cronin said the new changes didn’t protect the popular Busch Greenway, a 4.8-mile trail connecting the Katy Trail with the Missouri Research Park and the August A. Busch Wildlife area. “While I think this plan is a lot better, it’s not there,” he said.
Elam said he has heard more about this issue than any other in the five years he has been on the council. While he lauded Whittaker as a “conscientious” homebuilder, he said when the council hears from a majority of residents asking that they don’t approve this, they should not approve it.
“Once the land is disturbed, it’s disturbed forever,” Elam said.
Councilmember Michael Klinghammer [District 6] said he was dead set against the first plan but changed his vote because Whittaker has gone above and beyond what the county asked. Klinghammer voted against the development at the planning and zoning commission meeting in March, but voted in favor of it on June 25. “I believe at the end of the process, this a compromise and is as good as we could get,” Klinghammer said.
Brad Goss, an attorney for Whittaker, said changes in the plan have reduced density from possibly more than 380 to 276, provided 60 acres of conservation area as buffers between the Katy Trail and the development, preserved 88 percent of trees and established covenants that homeowners will have to abide by.
“It’s a good plan that’s gotten better because of what this council forced us to do to change this plan,” Goss said.