Foes, supporters of Villages at Gravois Creek say lawsuit a certainty

By BURKE WASSON

With questions of zoning, density and traffic still lingering about a proposed 424-home subdivision across from Grant’s Farm, only one thing is certain to come out of the discussions — a lawsuit.

Attorney Stephen Kling, who is representing residents who live near the proposed subdivision, said if the County Council passes two bills to approve zoning for the Villages at Gravois Creek during its Tuesday night meeting — after the Call went to press — the council can expect legal action.

Judging from the fact that the attorney for the developers of the homes — Gravois Co. attorney John King — also said that he would sue the county if the council does not pass the proposal, it’s safe to say the County Council will have to pick its poison.

“I think they have a choice now,” Kling said Friday. “It’s a question of who do they want to be sued by?”

The County Council was slated Tuesday night for a second time to vote on final passage of two bills that would approve zoning for the Villages at Gravois Creek.

With that in mind, Kling said he is representing the concerns of nearby residents, and if the council won’t listen to them, he — and perhaps a court — will.

“If they (council members) haven’t heard their constituents’ concerns about it, I mean I don’t know what else there is to say,” Kling said. “It’s pretty loud, and there appears to be quite a number of them, and it’s unfortunate that they’re not listening.”

But the man who represents the district where the homes would be built — 6th District County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county — disagrees with Kling’s assertion that “they’re not listening.”

One week after introducing a third substitute bill for Bill 113, Campisi introduced a fourth substitute bill May 16 to the council to make additional changes to the surrounding site plans for the homes.

Among the most major changes in the new substitute bill, according to Campisi, is that a new traffic study of the area will be required. Residents have criticized the previous traffic study submitted by the developers because it was conducted on one day in October and did not take into account extra traffic from Grant’s Farm and the nearby Affton Athletic Association facilities. Campisi said the new traffic study will not replace the study done in October, but rather be included with it.

His fourth substitute bill for Bill 113 was approved as an attachment by the council May 16 with a 5-2 vote, with County Council Chairman Kurt Odenwald, whose 5th District is literally across the street from the proposed development, and 3rd District Councilman Skip Mange voting against Campisi’s proposal.

Campisi said after the May 16 council meeting that he was confident that the County Council would approve final passage of the bill soon and is also optimistic that the changes in his substitute bills have addressed the traffic needs for the pending development.

“I think I can count on that,” he said. “I feel that I’ve done my best as far as legislation goes with covering this development.

“I would like to move forward with the final passage of this legislation to get this development moving and finally, hopefully help everybody that drives up and down Gravois Road with the new left-hand turn lanes and dedicated right-hand turn lanes,” he continued. “It’s not going to make the development better, but I can tell you that it won’t make it any worse either only because of the fact that it’ll pull traffic out of the center lane. If you go up Gravois or Musick, you’ll know what I mean. It pulls traffic out of the way and it keeps traffic flowing. So I hope I was able to address the traffic that way.”

Despite Campisi’s assertion that he has worked to the best of his ability to make the project more livable, Kling said the voices of nearby residents are being neglected, which is why he is pursuing legal action.

He said Friday that Campisi’s claims that the developers would win if the issue was taken to court is “completely wrong” and hopes to prove that point if the Villages at Gravois Creek are approved.

Courts simply will require the County Council to change the zoning at the site from its current non-urban zoning to any form of residential and not necessarily the zoning that the developers desire, according to Kling. If that decision were to pass, Kling said he would push for the council to approve a “less intense” zoning for the area.

“As I tried to tell him (Campisi), he’s wrong,” Kling said. “The courts do not tell you what project has to be approved. With respect to zoning, the issue is whether the existing zoning is appropriate or not. Now it may well be that the current NU zoning on that property is inappropriate. But the court is not going to tell them that the county has to approve like an R-6 zoning or whatever it would be. That’s not the way they do it. They say: ‘The current zoning’s inappropriate. Rezone it to something else.'”

One issue relating to the density of homes was answered by Campisi, when he said that the deal Gravois Co. struck with Cor Jesu Academy, an all-girls Catholic school adjacent to the proposed 94-acre site, would, in fact, erase 20 homes from the subdivision on the school’s side of Gravois Creek — bringing the number of homes at the site down from 444 units to 424 units.

He said the reason that has not appeared on any bills is because Cor Jesu officials still have to sign the agreement, which cannot be done until the County Council approves final passage of the bills for the Villages at Gravois Creek. Cor Jesu then has 90 days to sign the agreement.

“What they wanted me to do was change it to 174 (homes), but I can’t do it because they (Cor Jesu) don’t own the property yet,” Campisi said. “So we had to make sure that it stayed 194. So 20 units will be off of that. It’ll rate as 174 (homes) 90 days after the purchase of the property to the developers.”

Besides density issues, worries remain about potential traffic and flooding problems that the extra homes could bring.

Robert Barczewski, president of the Board of Governors of the Affton Athletic Association, told the council May 16 that he had three major concerns with the proposed subdivision — increased flooding to the athletic fields, efficiency of traffic flow and use of flood-plain property in the development’s planned environment unit, or PEU, zoning.

“At a meeting arranged by Councilman Campisi on Saturday (May 13), we were assured by the developers that their studies all show extensively that the homes would cause no additional flooding to our athletic fields or ice rink,” Barczewski said. “I respectfully request that this council confirm with the developers both the proposed development and its impact on flooding on the athletic fields.

“Second, the addition of 444 homes in an already-congested area will make the area become more congested. The meeting on Saturday with the developers took us through the proposed expansion of Gravois Road. They also confirmed that our private road, McNary Road, was not going to be used in any way for the development. Mr. Campisi confirmed that eminent domain will not be used to take over McNary Road. We were very pleased to hear these two statements.

“Still, it leaves one major issue. McNary Road is a one-lane-only exit. Currently, traffic takes 10 to 20 minutes exiting the parking lot even without the addition of 444 homes surrounding the area. We’ve requested that the developers urge MoDOT (Missouri Department of Trans-portation) to make changes to the bridge on Gravois to accommodate the left-hand turn lane.”

With the approval of the development expected by Campisi before the Call’s press time, Kling said he is studying all claims and arguments that he and residents can make to mold the Villages at Gravois Creek into an accommodating subdivision — preferably with a majority of the homes being single-family detached houses.

“We’re looking at several different possible claims that could be brought with respect to any ordinances that are similar to the ones that they’re considering now,” Kling said. “But yeah, the goal is to challenge the zoning because it’s too dense. And like I said, they have other residential categories that they could choose. And I think as I tried to explain to them, because I am hired with some frequency by residential groups, generally they don’t come to this level or commit to spend this kind of money. They’re really serious about this stuff.”

At the same time, Kling said he hopes that the council, the Gravois Co. and residents can reach a compromise without going to court.

But if need be, Kling said he is ready.

“There probably would be a reasonable compromise for a reduction in density that would still give the developer a benefit and would hopefully provide both sides enough where neither one of them would litigate,” Kling said. “I’ve got to believe that. But we are looking into it.”