Commission recommends approval of apartments on Tesson Ferry Road

County Council could weigh proposal if O’Leary introduces legislation for it

The view of the hands raised against the apartment complex at Bauer and Tesson Ferry from the back of the crowd, courtesy of former Mehlville Board of Education member Lori Trakas.

The view of the hands raised against the apartment complex at Bauer and Tesson Ferry from the back of the crowd, courtesy of former Mehlville Board of Education member Lori Trakas.

By Gloria Lloyd

Despite the overwhelming opposition of the neighbors surrounding an apartment complex proposed for the intersection of Tesson Ferry and Bauer roads, county planners view the project as a good fit for the neighborhood.

J.H. Berra, operating as JHB Properties, hopes to build “21Bauer,” a 232-unit apartment complex on a 17.2-acre site at 12921 Tesson Ferry Road in the Mehlville School District, in an area represented by 6th District County Councilman Kevin O’Leary, D-Oakville.

On the recommendation of the county Department of Planning, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the apartments last week 7-0, with members Bill Sneed and Keith Taylor absent. The panel’s recommendations are not binding on the County Council, which will consider the proposal if O’Leary introduces legislation for it.

Hundreds of the project’s potential neighbors packed the County Council chambers to oppose the project at the June 20 public hearing, submitting a petition against it with 500 signatures. No one from the public spoke in favor of the project. The 17 speakers who spoke against it said they oppose 21Bauer because it would cause permanent damage to the residential character of their quiet neighborhoods, drag down their property values and make traffic on already-packed roads unbearable.

Sunset Meadows resident Bill Kramper, who has lived off Tesson Ferry for 52 years, said at the hearing that traffic in recent years has become a problem for the residents living off the road, also called Highway 21.

“For those of us who have long lived off Highway 21, it would create a significant hardship to us,” Kramper said.

But county planners recommended approval in part be-cause they believe multi-family development will serve as a good transition between the Tesson Ferry commercial corridor to the single-family houses on Tammy Kay and along Bauer Road, planner Debi Salberg told the panel July 11. Extra traffic could be handled by the signal at Bauer Road, and Tesson Ferry is already a major road, she added.

The county already rezoned the property R-6 multi-family residential in 2010 for a 170-bed nursing home and a 316-unit senior housing complex that fell through. The property is now vacant, with heavy tree coverage. The current zoning allows up to 374 units to be built at the site.

Representing Berra at the hearing, attorney Ed Griesedieck said the gated complex would consist of 10 “stair-stepped” buildings ranging from two to four stories, a community center, a dog park and a fitness center. The “high-end” one- or two-bedroom apartments would have granite countertops, vaulted ceilings and other amenities.

The two gated entrances for the apartments would be off Tesson Ferry and Bauer, across from Tammy Kay.

Any increase in the number of units would require a new public hearing, with notifications sent to neighbors, Salberg said.

Berra proposes adding a second left-turn lane on Bauer Road for the increased traffic turning onto Tesson Ferry, and the county believes that extra lane will improve traffic flow. Berra will also widen Bauer and could build a right-turn lane from Tesson Ferry into the gated entrance.

The public-hearing crowd repeatedly booed CBB Traffic Engineer Shaun White because her traffic study found that the new complex would only add 30 cars to Bauer Road traffic at peak hours. To applause from the crowd, Kramper said he didn’t believe the traffic study’s contention that most residents would leave the apartments by taking a left onto Tesson Ferry.

“I guess if you’ve got enough insurance and a death wish, that’s the thing to do,” he said.

After the crowd booed a series of White’s comments, new commission member Gary Elliott of Eureka addressed the audience.

“I kind of take offense when arrows are thrown, too,” he said. “I’ve had this job for a couple months now and no one’s bought me off, and yet people come up here like we’re automatically the bad guy and we’ve already formed an opinion. You know, sometimes when you’re rude, that kind of forces forming an opinion. Please don’t do that, let me take any information I need to make an informed decision.”

At the vote last week, Elliott made the motion to approve the apartments, seconded by commission member Steve Lawler of Oakville.

At Elliott’s request, the panel held off on voting on a proposal by St. Anthony’s Medical Center to move its urgent-care center from 2900 Lemay Ferry Road, next to Mehlville High School, to the vacant former Ponderosa building at Interstate 55 and South Lindbergh Boulevard. St. Anthony’s hopes to adapt the existing building and parking lot for the new clinic.

The hospital leases its current location next to the high school, and it needs more space and will save money over time on rent, representatives of St. Anthony’s told the panel at the June 20 public hearing.

One of the residents already at the hearing to speak against 21Bauer, Schuessler Road resident Patricia Ann Smith, spoke against the move for environmental reasons and because she believes south county already has too many medical offices.

“Schuessler Road has been victimized by St. Anthony’s so many times,” she said. “South county does not have to become a medical miasma — that’s from the Greek, and it means pollution.”

The Planning Commission was a seat short of full membership for years, but several new members have recently joined the panel.

New members include Elliott, who is the business manager for the Eastern Missouri District Laborers’ District Council. South county gained a new member on the panel this year when the council approved the appointment of Keith Brooks, a resident of unincorporated Fenton, in May. He is the owner of Southside Jewelry and Loan in Affton.

At the time of Elliott’s appointment, University City resident Tom Sullivan objected because he said the panel would be too packed with special-interest representatives.

Besides Elliott, Lawler is retired from Plumbers and Pipefitters Labor Union No. 562, Ballwin resident Taylor is a business representative for the Carpenters’ District Council of Greater St. Louis and Vicinity, and new member Lou Cunningham works for Guarantee Electric Co.

“What’s needed are commissioners to look out for the public interest,” Sullivan wrote to the council. “The construction trades are more interested in helping themselves than helping this community.”