Green Park aldermen vote 4-2 to reject Fresh Thyme site plan

Panel member opposes plan; recuses himself from matter

Green Park aldermen vote 4-2 to reject Fresh Thyme site plan

By Mike Anthony

The Green Park Board of Aldermen voted 4-2 last week to reject a preliminary site plan for a Fresh Thyme Farmers Market store proposed for the current site of the Tesson Ferry Branch County Library.

Earlier this month, the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of Fresh Thyme’s proposal to construct a 28,900-square-foot store at 9920 Lin Ferry Drive. Commission member Jonathan Byrd recused himself from the discussion and vote at the panel’s Oct. 7 meeting.

Ward 1 Aldermen Carol Hamilton and Michael Broughton, Ward 2 Alderman James Jones Jr. and Ward 3 Alderman Joe Monteleone were opposed to Fresh Thyme’s proposal. Ward 2 Alderman Tim Thuston and board President Fred Baras of Ward 3 voted in favor.

Hamilton, who serves on the Planning and Zoning Commission, joined the rest of the panel on Oct. 7 in voting to recommend approval of the preliminary site plan.

Two representatives of Fresh Thyme — Dan Uebelhor of InSite Real Estate and Kevin Kamp of Civil & Environmental Consultants Inc. — made presentations to both the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of Aldermen.

Fresh Thyme is “a full-service specialty grocer, focusing on fresh, affordable, healthy food products,” Uebelhor told aldermen last week, later adding, “They’re about half the size of your average Whole Foods and about twice the size of your average Trader Joe’s.”

Fresh Thyme announced last year it would open over 60 new stores and create roughly 5,000 new jobs throughout the Midwest over the next five years. The company is opening its first two stores in Missouri — in O’Fallon and Ballwin — this fall, and plans four more in the state, including its proposed Green Park store.

In recommending approval of Fresh Thyme’s proposal after a roughly two-hour discussion, the Planning and Zoning Commission agreed with nearly all of the conditions the company requested in a statement of need, including:

• Parking — The city’s zoning code requires 188 spaces, and Fresh Thyme proposed 131.

• Building setbacks — The city’s zoning code requires a front-yard setback of 30 feet. Fresh Thyme proposed 20 feet from South Lindbergh Boulevard.

• Parking setbacks — The city’s zoning code requires a front-yard setback of 10 feet from Lin Ferry Drive, as well as the north and west property lines. Fresh Thyme proposed 6 feet from Lin Ferry Drive with a small area of 0 feet at the entrance point. The proposed north property line setback was 5 feet in some instances and 2 feet along the west property line.

• Site coverage — The city’s zoning code allows 80 percent site coverage, and Fresh Thyme proposed roughly 86 percent. To achieve the 80-percent requirement, Fresh Thyme would have to eliminate roughly 33 parking spaces.

The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended denial of Fresh Thyme’s request for a 9-foot-high ground sign. The maximum height for a ground sign under the city’s zoning code is 8 feet.

During a public hearing at the Board of Aldermen meeting, two people spoke on Fresh Thyme’s proposal — one was opposed and the other was in favor.

Byrd, the Planning and Zoning Commission member who had recused himself from the discussion and vote on Fresh Thyme’s proposal, said he opposed the store for several reasons, including setbacks, lack of parking, traffic concerns and “market saturation.” Byrd works as an organizer with Meatcutters’ Local 88 of the United Food & Commercial Workers.

Regarding “market saturation,” he said, “We don’t need another grocery store in this area — Costco, Target, Aldi’s, Shop ‘n Save, two Schnucks, Dierbergs, all within a two-mile radius. Enough’s enough. When you have market saturation, it affects the workers and these stores. A lot of these workers depend on hours. Hours mean health benefits. Hours mean pensions …

“We have at least 40 people here in this town that are affected by those wages …”

Byrd also contended that Fresh Thyme is “not friendly to the labor and trade unions in this town. They have decided to build these stores without skilled workers — local workers. They bring workers from out of state to build these stores … We have a rat coming into this town. I don’t approve of this, so not only the grocery workers in this town, but we have the building-trade workers also. So I disapprove of this company coming in …”

Carol Gapsch of Gapsch Bros. Inc., which owns buildings on Lin Ferry Drive, told aldermen she supported Fresh Thyme’s proposal. She also spoke in support of the proposal at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.

Of Fresh Thyme, she said, “… I am familiar with their type of store because I frequented them in different states, and Florida has some stores, not under the name of Fresh Thyme, but very similar and they’re dynamite to shop in, there’s no question about it. But it’s a whole different product than the kind of stores we already have here.

“They offer different stuff. They’re really quite interesting. They bring a whole new perspective to Green Park. They’d no doubt bring some new revenue, and yes, I have compassion for jobs, but they would also offer more jobs because they need employees to operate these stores …”

A Fresh Thyme store would be a drawing point for Green Park, attracting shoppers who otherwise would not come to the city, Gapsch said.

“People are going to come from a long way … It’s just a new opportunity. It’s a new face. It’s a new thing,” she said. “I can’t help but believe it’s going to draw people from all around …”

During a discussion of the proposal, aldermen expressed concerns about the size of the building on the lot, particularly the conditions Fresh Thyme requested in its statement of need. But both Uebelhor and Kamp said that the store could not be reduced any further in size and accommodate Fresh Thyme’s needs.

After the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, Hamilton said she had second thoughts about the traffic issues and the size of the building.

“It’s like putting an elephant in a shoe box over there,” she said.

Hamilton later added, “… Traffic — after Planning and Zoning, when I thought about it more, put some more consideration in and plus people were giving me input, people in my ward were calling about it. It just doesn’t fit there.”

Uebelhor declined to comment when asked by the Call if Fresh Thyme would submit a revised proposal.