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O’Fallon asked to consider high-density housing on The Falls Recreation Center site

It was a full house at O'Fallon Planning and Zoning meeting on July 18 as the commission considered a rezoning request for The Falls Recreation Center site. [John Tremmel photo]

It was a full house at O’Fallon Planning and Zoning meeting on July 18 as the commission considered a rezoning request for The Falls Recreation Center site. [John Tremmel photo]

Nearly 100 O’Fallon residents attended the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting from 6:30-11:15 p.m. on Thursday, July 18. Many were there to oppose a rezoning and area plan request for the current site of The Falls Recreation enter.

Missouri National Golf Links LP has requested that the city of O’Fallon rezone the parcel located at 1301 Crooked Stick Drive to enable the building of high-density rental housing.

The subject property is situated on the south side of Mexico Road, directly across from Fort Zumwalt West High. The 23.28-acre site includes a lighted golf driving range, putting practice green, lighted miniature golf course, a small pro shop building and a parking lot. On weekdays during the school year, high school students with parking permits use the recreation center’s lot as overflow parking.

Missouri National has requested rezoning of the land from C-2/General Business District PUD/Planned Unit Development to R-3/Garden Apartment and Condo District PUD/Planned Unit Development.  The company also has submitted an area plan for a proposed residential development to be named “Fairways at Turtle Creek.”

The new development would have 182 residential rental units. Twenty-four of those units would be attached single-family villas, 68 units would be one-story single-family homes and 90 units would be two-story single-family homes. Density would be 8.02 residential units per acre. The development would include a clubhouse, swimming pool, jogging trail, “Tot Lot” and “Pet Park” along with open space common ground and picnic areas.  The concept is for a “cluster home” community with all houses facing inward toward walkable park-like areas, with garages and alleyways behind the houses.

At the July 18 meeting, Missouri National partner Ed Schultz and architect Jeff Davis discussed the plan. They said they believed that all of the key concerns raised by city staff had been or were being addressed.

Per the agenda packet materials for the meeting, city staff had recommended that P&Z forward a recommendation of denial to the city council for the rezoning and the area plan. Reasons for denial include concerns about using viable commercial retail/office property for residential development, reduced distances between proposed residential buildings creating fire risks, multiple design issues that do not comply with city code, internal traffic issues due to one-way alleys, lack of clearance between garages and alleyways, and differences between the area plan and the plan notes.

Davis explained that previous objections to their plans had been thought through and changes were made.

“The prior [TriStar] proposal had 15 units per acre, and this plan has only 8.2 units per acre, well within the density requirements. Building heights were three stories, and now they are a mix of one-story and two-story units. The previous plan had carports, and this plan has attached two-car garages,” Davis explained.

Davis spoke about studies by “nationally recognized housing consultants, and even on CNBC, showing that nationwide the trend now is away from fee simple housing and more toward rentals, even for families with children.” He added that there is a shortage of rental housing.

Davis said rents for the proposed units would be in the range of $1,600 to $2,200 per month because these will be “detached, cluster-home villas with concierge amenities and an attractive community feeling.”

After the presentation, P&Z commissioner Curtis Seymour commented that he has several concerns and asked if there are any other developments like this in St. Charles County or Missouri. Davis responded, “the closest is Nashville.”

Seymour expressed additional concerns about “no basements, narrow alleys that could impede fire trucks and ambulances, and only six feet between units that regardless of fire retardant walls could allow one fire to spread across roof shingles and burn the whole development to the ground.”  He also opined that “without basements, residents would tend to store things in garages, limiting parking for their cars, and with alleys instead of streets, there is not enough parking available in the development.”

Schultz clarified that the six-foot spacing between the units meets O’Fallon’s city code and said that the fire department has reviewed and approved the plans for fire retardant walls, alleyways and special emergency access points.

Before the vote, Commissioner Jim Frain said he knew from personal experience that “developments like this are working great in Seattle and Portland.”  He further said “our city needs to be open to different types of things.”

Commissioner Jennifer Thomas said she liked the plan, but not for this property.

“This plan in the right place at the right time would be embraced,” Thomas said. “But not here.”

Seymour agreed. “This is a good plan but in a bad location,” he said. “You’re putting this in people’s back yards. And there are no streets. Residents would have to walk to get around.”

During the public hearing, more than a dozen residents spoke.

Jennifer Church, from the Turtle Creek subdivision, said she “strongly opposed this proposed development,” saying “this looks like putting 10 pounds in a five-pound bag.”  She insisted that when property is zoned a certain way, it should remain that way.

Lisa C., who lives next to The Falls’ driving range, said to the P&Z Commission: “Don’t keep bringing this back. We’re tired of coming to meeting after meeting to cover the same thing. We do not want apartments or rental units in our back yards. We’re not New Town; we’re O’Fallon.” She added that she “does not believe that young people or senior people would want to spend $1,600 to $2,200 per month in rent.”

Homeowner Tom Green presented a petition signed by 161 homeowners in opposition to the Fairways at Turtle Creek development. He said there is a Turtle Creek area group named “Homeowners Value Protection Committee” that monitors proposals and developments such as this and seeks to communicate their concerns to appropriate O’Fallon leaders and groups.

“You keep discussing and tabling and postponing on this property, and that ties up the property that could be sold or used by someone else,” Green said. “Stop delaying. Vote on this tonight. And vote ‘no.’”

Other speakers expressed concern about adverse effects on property values, possible Section 8 renters and traffic on Mexico Road made worse by the new development.

 

No speakers spoke in favor of the development.

During the wrap-up after the public hearing, Schultz was asked why the revenue from these rental units was so important to him. He explained that he and his partner “had opened the Falls at Turtle Creek Golf Course in 1994, and 10 years later in 2004 we were averaging 30,000 to 33,000 rounds of golf per year, with the average revenue for greens fee plus cart at $49 per round.”

“Last year we were down to about 26,000 rounds of golf at an average revenue of $35 each, partly because of so many seniors now playing at reduced rates. How many businesses do you think would survive a drop in revenue like that?” he asked.

He said a significant portion of the rental income from this new development would be reinvested into the golf course.

When asked directly if his Falls Golf Course could survive without this proposed rental income from the Fairways at Turtle Creek, Schultz paused very briefly, and then answered “No.”

Ultimately, the P&Z Commission voted 11-1 to send the City Council a recommendation to deny the rezoning request and area plan; however, Mayor Bill Hennessy pointed out to all present that this is not over. The rezoning request will be on the council’s agenda for July 25, at which time the council will decide what action to take next.

 

 

 

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