Court Drive area in Sunset Hills to stay residential, panel agrees

Panel hears two proposals to permit retail uses in area

By MIKE ANTHONY

The Sunset Hills Planning and Zoning Commission voted last week to accept the recommendation of the Residential Recovery Task Force for the area devastated by the New Year’s Eve tornado that swept through the city.

The Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously Nov. 2 to amend the city’s comprehensive plan to allow for both single-family residences and attached housing on Court Drive and West Watson Road west of South Lindbergh Boulevard — similar to the nearby Courtyards of Sunset Hills, which has both single-family homes and attached villas.

The vote establishes a new designation for the comprehensive plan permitting both attached-unit residential or single-family residential.

Roughly 100 people attended the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, which took place in the gymnasium of the Community Center. Nearly 20 speakers addressed the panel with the vast majority of them opposed to changing the comprehensive plan to provide for commercial development in the area.

Mayor Bill Nolan established the Residential Recovery Task Force after the Planning and Zoning Commission voted June 1 to reject an amendment to change the comprehensive master plan to provide for commercial and attached-unit residential uses of the area. The proposed amendment would have encompassed all property on Court Drive not already designated for commercial use, the first six properties along the north side of West Watson Road west of South Lindbergh Blvd. and 3851 and 3863 S. Lindbergh Blvd.

More than 20 people addressed the commission during the June 1 public hearing with the vast majority of speakers opposed to changing the comprehensive plan.

The Residential Recovery Task Force met throughout the summer before finalizing its recommendation in early August.

The roughly 10-acre site currently is zoned R-2 single-family residential with a 20,000-square-foot minimum lot size. The task force’s recommendation included two maps — one designating the area affected by the tornado and a second designating the recovery area that encompassed the panel’s recommendation.

The recovery area excludes two commercial properties on South Lindbergh Boulevard — 3819 S. Lindbergh Blvd., the site of Telle Tire & Auto Services, and 3825 S. Lindbergh Blvd., the site of the former SSM Imaging Center, which since has been demolished. Also excluded from the recovery area are two properties zoned residential but designated as commercial in the comprehensive plan — 12415 Court Drive and 12410 Chrisann Lane. Included in the recovery area at property owner John Beaury’s request is 12418 Chrisann Lane.

Robert Meyer, a member of the Residential Recovery Task Force, told the commission last week, “… I’d like to clear up a point before we go any further with this because we were given an assignment and that assignment was to deal with residential status and it was to deal with an area west of Lindbergh and north of West Watson Road. It didn’t include any other areas or any other land usage.

“We were to deal with — and we did — with the area as it related to residential zoning. Our objective was to find a way to redevelop that area as residential — no other involvement …,” he continued, later saying, “Our recommendation would accomplish the objective that we had using a category of single-family residential, attached-unit residential …”

Meyer also noted the task force talked with three developers.

“… All three of those developers indicated that the approach that we are recommending could work, but it needs a tremendous amount of cooperation between the current owners, the developers, the city administration and the local financial institutions,” he said. “And with that, it could work. Will it work? I couldn’t answer that. It’s not an easy job, but it could be redeveloped in the combination of single-family and/or attached homes.

“A majority of the citizens that were present at the prior public hearings want that area to remain residential,” Meyer continued. “I can tell you that our committee is unanimously in favor of it staying residential. We would like to expand the category, and I think you would find that most of the folks here tonight at this meeting also would like to have it to stay residential …”

The Planning and Zoning Commission later voted to accept the Residential Recovery Task Force’s recommendation.

Commission member Joseph Niemeyer’s motion, which was seconded by commission member Robert Robben stated, “… The comprehensive master plan be amended to designate the entire ‘recovery area’ for only residential single-family housing and/or a Courtyards-style — PD-RC (Planned Development-Residential Cluster) development, or a combination of both. There will be no consideration given for the expansion of commercial development into the ‘recovery area.”’

After the commission voted, Pat Otto, who chaired the meeting in the absence of Chairman Rodney Stecher, announced the motion had been “unanimously” approved.

The panel also heard two other proposals for the area that involved commercial uses.

Dr. George Despotis, of Des Peres, a trustee for properties at 12417 W. Watson Road and 3825 S. Lindbergh Blvd., presented a proposal “to redevelop three parcels at the northwest corner of West Watson and Lindbergh for an appropriate commercial use that protects the interest of adjacent landowners and serves the community by expanding the tax base by providing new employment and essential retail services from a national tenant …”

The panel also heard a proposal from the Court Drive Residents Task Force to change the comprehensive plan to permit commercial uses. The Sansone Group and partner A.J. Borzillo Inc., working with the task force and the First Capitol Group, proposed retail and senior housing for the area.

The Sansone Group has roughly a dozen or so properties in the area under contract.

At one point, Jim Sansone, of the Sansone Group, contended the area could not be redeveloped residentially.

“… Is the current comprehensive plan as it sits in the city of Sunset Hills today still viable or not? That’s exactly what we’re talking about,” he said. “And our statement is: It is not. It clearly is not and we’ve seen no evidence to the contrary to show that calling this area residential is an accurate statement today. Not one developer can come forward, residential developer, to state that they would be interested in doing residential units there. And we’ve talked to all of them that we know of — not one.

“Spoke to one today who’s the president of the Homebuilders Association. His quote was: If I was given the property for free, I couldn’t develop there — for free. Now if that doesn’t tell you the comprehensive plan is outdated, I don’t know what does …”