Crestwood panel votes to table proposed amendment to Watson Road plan

2015 measure would change former mall site to mixed-use

Chuck Triplett

Chuck Triplett

By Mike Anthony

The Crestwood Planning and Zoning Commission voted last week to table a resolution amending the city’s Watson Road Commercial District Plan.

The commission voted 5-0 to table the resolution after a public hearing in which the majority of seven speakers told the panel they had difficulty in obtaining a copy of the proposed amendment before the July 1 meeting.

Voting to table the resolution were Chairman Robert Sweeney and commission members Ken Lange, Dave Wall, Greg Zipfel and Scott Whitcraft. Commission members Bo Proffit and Steve Nieder were absent.

The Watson Road Commercial District Plan, also called the Watson Road Corridor Plan, “is the city’s current comprehensive plan for the Watson Road commercial district,” according to the proposed amendment. The plan was created in 1984 through a cooperative effort by city officials and the business community.

The Watson Road Commercial District Plan contains five sites, and City Planner Adam Jones told the commission that the proposed amendment only would affect one site, Site B, which includes the former Crestwood Plaza property.

“… That amendment would only include changing the future land-use designation from planned commercial, as it stands now, to planned mixed-use. And the reason for that, the 2015 amendment recommends that any new development on Site B should be undertaken as planned mixed-use development with a unified site plan,” he said.

If adopted, the amendment would allow possible residential uses at the mall site.

UrbanStreet Group of Chicago, which owns mall property, is requesting nearly $28 million in tax incentives, including tax-increment financing, or TIF, for a roughly $99.5 million mixed-use project at the 48-acre site at Watson and Sappington roads. The project proposes four components — a retail area, a multiplex theater and restaurants, 225 apartments, and open space and community gardens.

“This recommendation requires updating the proposed land-use classification of Crestwood Plaza site. This change will help further efforts by the city of Crestwood and the developer of the Crestwood Plaza to rehabilitate the site and bring economic stabilization to the Watson corridor. This change also will put the Watson Commercial District Plan in compliance with efforts to complete and adopt a future TIF plan for the city of Crestwood …,” Jones said.

Besides discussing the difficulty of obtaining a copy of the proposed amendment before the meeting, speakers cited a lack of public input on the proposed change and took issue with Jones’ assertion the amended plan would comply with the state’s TIF statute, which requires that a redevelopment plan must conform to the comprehensive plan for the development of the municipality as a whole.

Several of the speakers noted that Crestwood does not have — and never has had — a citywide comprehensive plan.

While Lindbergh Schools officials fully support the redevelopment of the mall site, they oppose the use of tax incentives for residential development, saying UrbanStreet’s plan to construct 225 apartments would exacerbate the aggressive enrollment growth that already is challenging the school district. Students from those apartments would attend Crestwood Elementary School, which is already at capacity.

Lindbergh Chief Financial Officer Charles Triplett quoted from the commission’s resolution, noting it states, “The city provided opportunities for public involvement to ensure the plan represents and is consistent with the community’s values and vision for the future …”

“The word ‘provided’ is in the past tense and ‘opportunities’ is plural …,” he said, noting the Watson Road plan was created in 1984 and updated in 1998, 2005 and 2006. “Are these the past opportunities that the resolution refers to? When since 2006 has there been public involvement to ensure the plan represents and is consistent with the community’s values and vision for the future? We have carefully followed the redevelopment process for the mall the last few years and at no time are we aware of multiple opportunities for public input on the Watson Road Commercial District Plan …

“It appears that great care is being taken to not gather public input regarding the adoption of this amendment …”

Resident R. Hahn discussed the difficulty in obtaining a copy of the proposed amendment before the meeting.

“Several citizens, including myself, telephoned City Hall in response to a public notice in front of the mall site, and they get a recording that states that there’s a meeting tonight … The meeting’s about an amendment to the old Watson Road Commercial Plan and if you’d like to share your thoughts about the proposal to go ahead and show up,” he said. “Upon following up to talk to somebody live at City Hall, and again, this is not just myself but other people telephoning to ask if we could get a copy of what those amendments are, we’re told that they’re unavailable — not available in print, not available on the website and this is up to as short as 24 hours before the meeting …”

After Hahn questioned what he perceived as a rush to approve the amendment, Sweeney said, “… The reason that we’re here tonight is actually a very simple issue, and it’s whether or not a small portion of something that has been called probably incorrectly an area comprehensive plan. I have never heard that term before, but that’s what the city of Crestwood has apparently called its Watson Road Commercial District Plan — maybe inartfully, maybe inaccurately, maybe just out of convenience. This issue before this board is merely whether Site B, which currently is designed and identified as purely commercial, should be expanded to be a mixed-use site. It’s a very limited action that this board is being asked to take.

“Understandably, the speakers thus far have insinuated that automatically … bad things are going to happen. This doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not a TIF is issued. This has nothing to do whether or not a future site plan is ever approved …”

But speaking personally and not for the commission, the chairman said, “The fact that you were unable to get copies of this is disturbing. I don’t think that that is correct. I don’t think it’s correct practically. I don’t think it’s correct democratically and I don’t think it’s correct legally that these documents weren’t available. Now, I don’t know that for a fact. I indicated to you I don’t know who does that. I don’t know who’s responsible. Sometimes things fall through the cracks.

“What you have said to me is disturbing, I will tell you,” he said, adding, “… What this hearing is about and what we’re being asked to do tonight is very limited …”

Besides tabling the issue until the panel’s next meeting, the approved motion requested “the city administration revise the amendment to reflect our conversation and legal counsel be considered and contacted over the next 30 days whether the resolution can be made legally or not.”