Crestwood panel postpones action on Watson Road plan amendment


Executive Editor

A draft amendment to the Watson Road Development Plan will be considered next month by the Crestwood Planning and Zoning Commission after members last week postponed action on the proposal, requesting more information.

Commission members requested more information from city staff and the city’s planning consultant after hearing from representatives of two property owners in one of the areas identified as in need of rehabilitation or redevelopment — an 18.79-acre site that is comprised of two parcels at Watson and Grant roads. The larger of the two parcels contains Value City and is owned by Joe Grasso, while the smaller parcel contains the Creston Center and is owned by the Boegeman family.

An attorney representing the owners of the Creston Center asked the commission to remove the building from the proposed amendment, noting that a substantial redevelopment of the center has been ongoing.

Commission members took no formal action, but indicated they were agreeable to the request.

Grasso, two attorneys and a real estate broker addressed the commission about the Value City site, contending the draft amend-ment’s recommended redevelopment of the 18.79-acre site as planned residential with a unified site plan would damage Grasso’s efforts to redevelop the Value City site as a commercial property as well as harm Grasso financially. The commission asked city staff and the city’s planning consultant to provide information about various redevelopment scenarios for the site, including revenue projections for both commercial and residential redevelopment.

The proposed update to the Watson Road Development Plan, which is the city’s comprehensive plan for the Watson Road Commercial District, was formulated last year by the city’s planning consultant, John Brancaglione of Peckham, Guyton, Albers & Viets. The Planning and Zoning Commission primarily is a recommending body. In this case, however, final approval of the proposed amendment to the Watson Road Development Plan rests with the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Two meetings to obtain public input on the proposed update were conducted and comments were obtained from the Board of Aldermen before Ellen Dailey, the city’s economic development specialist, presented the final draft of the amendment to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

At the Feb. 2 meeting, Dailey told commission members that the Walnut Park Auto Body property had been removed from the draft amendment, noting that representatives of the business had appeared before the Board of Aldermen to ask the site be removed from the proposal. Noting that the proposed amendment did not recommend redevelopment of the site, city staff agreed to remove the site from the proposal, Dailey said.

In April 2002, the city issued a request for proposals to redevelop the Creston Center and Value City site. Two proposals were submitted — one from the Jones Co. and one from Mills Properties. The Jones Co. later withdrew its proposal and the Board of Aldermen voted in March 2003 to name Mills Properties as the preferred developer of the site. Mills had proposed a $37.1 million development that would include about 240 luxury apartment units and 19 luxury condominiums.

A second request for proposals for the site was issued in August 2003 to satisfy an amendment to a city ordinance regarding the use of urban redevelopment corporations. However, in September 2003, the Board of Aldermen voted to withdraw the request for proposals for the Watson/Grant Redevelopment Area and to establish a moratorium on redevelopment.

Mary Schultz of Schultz & Little, representing the Crest Development Co. and the Boegeman family, told the Planning and Zoning Commission that she took exception with some of the statements made in the draft amendment and contended that improvements to the Creston Center were not merely aesthetic, but encompassed sub-stantial electrical, mechanical and HVAC work, including on the balcony level “a major redevelopment of public restroom facilities and the hallway leading to those public restrooms.”

Schultz encouraged commission members to visit the Creston Center “and look at the jewel for the city of Crestwood. You should be proud of the Creston Center and look at whether that lighted intersection is appropriate for residential development, what you might see for residential development at the corner, that lighted intersection or is the Creston Center a proper buf-fering or transition from a commercial area to what might be residential.”

Tenants of the Creston Center, Schultz said, are “very high-end professional and retail service industry type businesses. They’re the types of businesses that Crest-wood should be encouraging to come to the city of Crestwood when Crestwood is seeing a lot of businesses leaving Crest-wood, choosing to locate somewhere else. So this is an asset of the city of Crestwood that should be cultivated and the land-use plan could influence that …”

She concluded, ” … I would ask you on behalf of the Crest Development Co. and the Boegeman family to retain the current land-use designation of the Creston Center … and not target that as a problem area that needs to be redeveloped or rehabilitated, retain that current designation, exclude that area from the Watson Road redevelopment area …”

Regarding the Value City site, Robert Denlow of Denlow and Henry, an attorney who identified himself as a friend of Grasso, said, “I looked at your plan. Joe asked me to look at it. It’s just strange that you have only one residential along a heavily traveled road of commercial road and the reason, I keep thinking I’m hearing it and I respect John very much and I’m sure Ellen does a great job, is because what has been there before simply hasn’t worked in the past so we’re going to try something different — even though up and down is all commercial. Even though right next to the subject property is commercial. But here we have an 18-acre tract and we’re going to zone or put under comprehensive plan a residential tract on Watson Road. Think about that. Why?

“… If this commission puts a residential designation on this property, you will do as much harm economically to Joe as you would to that guy who’s looking to do a coffee roasting business, if you denied him for whatever reason,” Denlow continued, referring to a request earlier that evening in which a conditional-use permit was sought for a coffee-roasting business.

The problem in the past with developing the Value City site is that Grasso did not have all of the properties under his control, similar to the situation that G.J. Grewe Inc. faced when attempting to redevelop Wat-son Plaza, Denlow said. Grewe had control of the entire plaza except for one property — the former Service Merchandise. Grewe ultimately gained control of the property and Watson Plaza now is being redeveloped.

Denlow also questioned why residential is being proposed for the site, saying, “… You put that to residential … there is one person negotiating with Joe who says: ‘OK, now for the first time you own all the property. Great. Let’s do a deal. I want to do residential.’ He’s got other people talking to him who may want to do commercial. It’s only now the opportunity has come and if you allow it to be residential, that same party is asking another section of the city for the power to condemn. So think about it. You have teamed up with one party who’s asking for the power to condemn so he can do his deal consistent with what you recommend, not what the market would recommend — that’s really important — not what the market would recommend. You know, like if he’s really interested in buying the property, let him negotiate with Joe. If he’s willing to pay as much as somebody else will, fine, and then let them come to the city like they would and come to rezone it … and if, in the end, the comprehensive plan needs to be changed, you do it.

“It would make more sense for this commission to allow them to investigate the history of this property. I know they don’t have the history of this property. I know they don’t know how successful or unsuccessful it has been in the past because no one has talked to Joe or any of his family members or any of the other people who were tenants or owners of that property,” Denlow said. “Until you do so, I think it would be dangerous for this commission to go forward and allow it. Either give this commission, give you guys enough opportunity to get enough information so you can make an educated decision. If you get full information and you still think it’s the right decision, I can respect you for it. But if you go forward without having the information, then you may just cause great harm to people when another meeting would allow full information to be disbursed or you may find out that it’s not the right time. Let the market decide what the right thing to do is and then let them come back to you as is often the case for developers …”

Brancaglione asked, “Mr. Denlow, how does this comprehensive plan and land-use designation affect the value of this property when the zoning isn’t changing? How is there a redevelopment scenario here when nobody’s approved a redevelopment plan. Where is the market analysis you would give to me that shows me what retailer be-yond Value City, which is a D-level retailer at best, will go on to this site with other parties going on to the site? The city’s going to commission a market study. I can tell you I haven’t done a market study, I’ll admit to that, but I tell you that there is a reason why MLP (Investments) is doing what they are doing in the middle of downtown Kirkwood and there isn’t a Target there anymore. Guess where Target went? It went to the interchange.”

Denlow replied, “Target outgrew those facilities. If you look at a Target today, they need a building substantially larger than the old one, just like the Wal-Marts of today can no longer be in the Wal-Marts of yesterday. They have to get bigger land and that is why he is giving a great point, when you have 18 acres, you can bring the boxes that can’t fit into Grewe’s properties of yesterday. This 18 acres will represent the next generation of potential retail and if Bruce Mills wants to put his residential and he make the numbers work for him, fine.

“But don’t you partner up with him with one agency giving him the power to condemn, you doing the comprehensive plan, then overnight he’s shot,” Denlow said of Grasso. “You’ve already delivered the goods to Bruce Mills because Bruce Mills will say: ‘You know what, it’s just residential property now. I think it’s only worth this much. Yeah, yesterday I thought it was worth more, but you know, I’m driving the car right now because of what the commission has given me. The commission gave me a comprehensive plan for residential and another commission has given me the condemnation powers and I have all the cards.’ If you do what you do, you have distorted the level playing field … If you give the residential and they give the condemnation, there is no longer a level playing field. That’s why I’m asking you to get more information …. Since Joe has gotten sole control of the property, this man here, Steve Lechner (of the Lechner Realty Group), is getting inquiries … What’s best for the city of Crestwood is to do what would be natural and not unnatural, which would be to make it residential …”

The Creston Center and Value City site is in the area the city annexed in 1997. Un-like the point-of-sale part of Crestwood in which the city retains most of the sales tax generated by businesses, sales tax generated in the annexed area is placed in a county sales tax pool and distributed on a per-capita basis.

Asked if PGAV had determined which would benefit the city more — a commercial or a residential designation for the site, Brancaglione said, “We looked at it at least once in the past. The city actually from a revenue standpoint would get more money if this were developed in a some relatively high-density, higher-density residential development … But I think that’s not just the reason. I don’t think you should make a decision based solely on that reason. This property is some of the most visible that you see as entering or leaving the community. If the Value City entire Board of Directors were sitting out here right now, I’d repeat this statement and that is that they’re a D-level retailer. Show me a place that’s got a Value City or Big Lots and I’ll show you a declining retail area, OK. So at the end of the day, it’s not just about the commercial uses that you could plug into this area as it exists. It’s as really Mr. Grasso correctly points out what’s the best thing long haul and the best combination of uses there, it’s whether it’s commercial or residential, what happens when Value City closes its doors? Who’s the next party in it? …

“So when you make a judgment call on this piece of property, whatever it winds up being and this planned suggestion as it’s now written isn’t the only suggestion. It’s in there because it’s the one that seems to be of most benefit to the city economically, of most benefit from an image standpoint and remember that the city’s economic base isn’t just this 18 acres, but it’s the rest of Watson Road. So what commercial uses occupy this piece of territory vs. the other parts of Watson Road that also need commercial users should also come into play in the decision making …”