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Opponents file suit to overturn Missouri Bluffs development approval

Opponents of a controversial proposal to build subdivision homes in the forested Missouri Bluffs area along the Missouri River have filed suit seeking to overturn a June decision by the St. Charles County Council that gives a go-ahead to the development.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center filed suit on July 25 in St. Charles County Circuit Court on behalf of two plaintiffs to void the rezoning and planned unit development [PUD] that would allow more than 260 homes to be built on the bluffs.

The plaintiffs in the case are Weldon Woods Inc., and Bettie Yahn-Kramer, a Weldon Spring resident who lives near the site. The seven-count lawsuit states that the county failed to hold a public hearing on the planned unit development request and rezoning that the county adopted. The suit also alleges a possible state Sunshine Law violation for lack of a 24-hour public notice on the plan before the council on June 25, which the suit alleges violated the county’s master plan for development.

“The people were never allowed to speak on this plan to put in 276 housing units,” said Kathleen Henry, an attorney for Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm.

The original proposal for the property was filed in December 2017 involved a rezoning from agricultural to R1-A planned unit development 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 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. However, the plan ran into strong opposition from nearby residents and environmental group worried about its impact on the Katy Trail, other wildlife areas and the quality of life of nearby homes.

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 that proposed 315 single-family and 120 multi-family units submitted last December.

The council has delayed votes at its April 30 and May 21 meetings, allowing the developers, Missouri Bluffs Golf Ventures and NT Home Builders, headed by developer Greg Whittaker, to revise the proposal. What the council voted on in June included a proposed 140 single-family homes and up to 136 multi-family units.

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 is scheduled to occur. The council announced at their June 11 meeting that it was expected to vote on the controversial proposal on June 25, giving notice as it said it would. The lawsuit notes that a revised substitute bill was submitted on June 20 and new PUD was filed on June 25, the day of the council meeting.  There was no time for a public notice of a hearing, Henry said.

“I think the procedures did get lost,” Henry said. “I’ve never seen something where the developer could come back so many times with such different proposals.”

Henry said voiding the rezoning “would mean starting over from square one with a new proposal to the [county] planning and zoning commission with a public hearing.”

Meanwhile, county officials did not comment on specific counts of the suit.

“We haven’t had a chance to meet internally and gather our thoughts,” said County Counselor Keith Hazelwood, who added that parties in the suit were served Friday morning [Aug. 3]. “I can tell you that the county feels it has properly proceeded in all respects.”

Hazelwood said he was confident that the county would be defending against the claims made in the suit.  “I know we feel as though we’ve acted legally in all stages of the process.”

Brad Goss, an attorney for the developers, could not be reached for comment on Friday afternoon.

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