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County Council continues to consider Missouri Bluffs development plan

In a heavily attended meeting last week, the St. Charles County Council once again addressed a multi-phased development proposed by NT Home Builders, headed by developer Greg Whittaker.

The development has been a topic of discussion within the community and at the planning and zoning [P&Z] and council levels of local government since late 2017.

Over the course of multiple trips before P&Z and the county council, the development has gone from 315 single-family and 120 multi-family units as originally proposed to 161 single-family homes and up to 60 attached villas on 386.52 acres located south of the Missouri Research Park, west of Interstate 64, and north of the Missouri River, overlooking the Katy Trail. Additionally, the current development pan calls for setting aside 47.43 acres as park land and expanding the non-disturbance easements, specifically near the Busch Greenway.

Disturbing the natural beauty of the area has been an ongoing concern of residents and groups opposed to the development plan.

The property in question is owned by the University of Missouri. The university has said it would sell the property to NT Home Builders upon approval of an acceptable plan and rezoning [the county council approved the requested rezoning on June 25, 2018].

Twice P&Z has recommend that the council, which has final authority on the matter, deny approval of the development. The role of P&Z is to recommend by majority vote that the council approve, deny or amend a development’s preliminary plat and final development plan. In so doing, P&Z considers factors that include community input and the recommendation of the county’s development staff.

In a memo to P&Z dated July 10, 2019, the county staff recommended approval for the current Missouri Bluffs development plan. However, on July 17, P&Z voted to recommend denial of the plan by the county council.

On Aug. 12, the council took up the controversial issue again and during the public comment portion of the meeting heard from seven people speaking against the plan and four speaking in favor of it.

Jennifer Rushing, a League of Women Voters board member, noted that P&Z had twice voted against the developer’s plan and said she sided with P&Z. Most of the opponents of the plan noted the area’s natural beauty and suggesting that the development intended would ruin the expanse.

The four speakers who endorsed the plan denied the contention that the development would be the death knell of the area’s natural beauty. One speaker in favor of the plan identified himself as a botanist, who said the region would gain much more in terms of tree planting and other horticultural activities than would be lost in building residences.

The bill to approve or deny the proposed Missouri Bluffs plat and final development plan [Bill No. 4748] was introduced by council member Joe Brazil [District 2]. During the ensuing council discussion, Brazil and council member Joe Cronin [District 1] corrected what they considered the common misconception that the council allowed this problem to emerge by not shooting the proposal down when it first arrived before them in 2018.

Cronin pointed out that the county had no legal say in the sale of the land, as it was a simple land conveyancing measure. “The University of Missouri could do what they wanted with the land,” he said.

Brazil added, “They did not have to go through the St. Charles County Council.”

Both council members said that the council had exercised oversight and due diligence in the matter.

Council member Terry Hollander [District 5] cautioned his colleagues and spectators against overvaluing the judgments of an advisory board, in this case P&Z. He pointed out that P&Z is an advisory board, but does not consist of elected members who answer to voters. He said he and his fellow council members respected the P&Z members and valued their opinions, but found them unconvincing in this particular instance.

Since Bill No. 4748 was introduced only for preliminary debate, no final action was taken. The council will take up the matter again on Monday, Aug. 26.

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