The Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen voted 6-0 with one abstention March 8 to rezone 10.41 acres from R-1 single-family residential to R-2 single-family residential at the former Paraclete Property in the Tapawingo subdivision.
Ward 1 Aldermen Ann McMunn and Joe Stewart, whose ward the development is in, as well as Ward 3 Alderman Randy Epperson, Ward 4 Alderman Fred Daues and Ward 2 Aldermen Casey Wong and Christine Lieber voted in favor of the preliminary development plan. Ward 3 Alderman Cathy Friedmann abstained while Ward 4 Alderman Thompson Price was absent.
Whalen Custom Homes is petitioning for a change in zoning from R-1, with a 1-acre minimum lot size, to R-2, with a 20,000 square foot minimum lot size for 10.41 acres at 13270 Maple Drive. The board held a first reading on the proposal at its February meeting; a second reading was scheduled for March 8 but according to the meeting agenda, the petitioner had requested postponement of a second reading because Price was going to be absent. However, at the March meeting, the petitioner requested moving forward with the second reading anyways.
“The plan that is before you tonight is, to the best of my knowledge, that plan that was published. I think it would be a disservice to all of us to kick this can down the road another month or two when we have an excellent proposal before us,” Mike Whalen said, president of Whalen Custom Homes. “It’s not going to become a development until you approve the final development plan. … I would respectfully request that we move forward with this tonight. … I feel like we’ve come a long, long way and I’d like to keep working toward the ultimate approval of this project, which is your approval of the final development plan that will work out all of these … details that belong in the final development plan, not this preliminary plan.”
Over 30 percent of nearby owners and residents had submitted a petition to the city in opposition to the development when it was first proposed, leading to several meetings between the developer and neighbors to work out their concerns. Tapawingo resident John Stephens, who helped facilitate some of the discussions between the developer and Tapawingo residents, said that he was concerned about proceeding with the second reading when the agenda posted on the city’s website still said the petitioner requested postponement.
“I’m concerned that the other residents who may have been on this call are not on this call because we were told this was not going to happen. … I received an email at 7 a.m. saying this would be postponed. … We got a call at 4 p.m. all of sudden saying this was going to be on the agenda,” Stephens said during public comment. “I’m surprised that the city wants to pursue this second reading tonight. … To me, public notification is part and parcel to what the city does and what the law requires the city to do. In my opinion, this is inadequate.”
Acting City Attorney Jim Hetlag said that aldermen were free to consider the bills pertaining to the development because the city had not postponed it, the applicant had only requested postponement. To delay the bills’ second reading until the later March meeting would require a motion and vote by the aldermen.
“I just feel like we need to respect the notification provisions we have and posted on the website right now is request for postponement. I feel like we’re shortchanging the residents if we proceed with the public notice that makes it appear that this has been postponed,” Friedmann said.
Wong questioned how long it would be until a final development plan is submitted to the city after approval of the preliminary plan. Whalen said it would take about three to six months before a final plan would be submitted to the city.
“The preliminary plan is we’re approving a concept, but now we have to do a topographic survey, we have to get MSD (Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District) approval, we have to get Missouri American Water approval, we have to get Department of Natural Resources approval … The heavy lifting begins with the approval of the preliminary plan. It will be months before I am in a position to come back,” Whalen said.
The final development plan will have to be heard by the Planning and Zoning Commission before it makes its way to the Board of Aldermen.
“We’re potentially looking at having a second reading (on the final plan) by Christmas. I think we have a little time on this one. This is a preliminary development plan and … I think we’re treating it like the final product,” Wong said. “This is something that we’re going to have plenty of time to work out the sausage on. … We’re spending a lot of time on this particular issue.”
Whalen echoed Wong’s sentiments, emphasizing that this was only the preliminary plan and that the burden was on him as the developer to make sure the final product matched the aldermen’s and residents’ expectations.
“The burden is on me to make sure all of this will actually work and come together and if there are any ancillary issues in the meantime, there’s plenty of time for that to be addressed by the time I bring this in for final approval, so I respectfully request that this be voted on,” Whalen said.