Haefner continuing her efforts to halt project

Some say they didn’t receive notification of public hearing

National Church Residences provided this rendering of its \$5.1 million senior apartment complex under construction at 6050 Telegraph Road in Oakville. The side of the building faces the road.

National Church Residences provided this rendering of its \$5.1 million senior apartment complex under construction at 6050 Telegraph Road in Oakville. The side of the building faces the road.

By Gloria Lloyd

Oakville’s state representative is vowing to do what she can to stop a government-subsidized apartment complex for senior citizens at 6050 Telegraph Road in Oakville.

Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville, is combing through paperwork filed with St. Louis County and the federal government by the project’s developer, Ohio-based nonprofit National Church Residences, for any discrepancies that could be used to force a second Planning Commission public hearing at the county level.

National Church Residences is the largest developer of nonprofit housing for senior citizens in the nation, with more than 300 residences nationwide.

At a May 31 meeting with County Executive Charlie Dooley, county representatives told Haefner there is nothing they can legally do to stop the project since the County Council unanimously approved the development in May 2012.

“We’re just going to have to look someplace else for a technicality,” Haefner said. “(County officials) did say if we find something, they will react quickly.”

To residents like Haefner and Goddard School owner Cindy Pyatt, as well as many other residents commenting in the Facebook group Oakville Residents Unite, the 13,926-square-foot, 45-unit building is just too big for the 1.4-acre lot sandwiched between Pyatt’s school and the small Tori Pines Commons shopping center.

Pyatt said she did not see a sign posted on the property or receive a postcard in the mail advertising the March 2012 Planning Commission public hearing. She had just moved, and the county sent the postcard to an old address, from which the card was not forwarded.

In its report to the County Council, the Planning Commission, which has three members from Oakville, cited the development as meeting the recommendations of the Oakville Area Study, which called for more senior housing. The Oakville Area Study, however, limits developments to two stories, and the new building will be three stories, Haefner said.

“What we’ve been hearing is, ‘You’re going to love it,'” Haefner said at her annual town-hall meeting on May 30 at the Cliff Cave Branch County Library, referring to comments by County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, who told the Call he believed the building would be attractive and the prospective elderly residents would be good neighbors. “I’m not really encouraged right now. In the future, we need to make sure this doesn’t happen in our community. We’re entitled to due process.”

Haefner applauded the efforts of Oakville residents in setting up the Facebook group and organizing a May 29 community meeting with little advance notice.

“This is grassroots at its finest,” she said.

Many in the Facebook group have posted that they received no notice of the meeting, despite being one of the 200 surrounding property owners the county says it contacted in advance to advise of the March 2012 public hearing. The postcards are sent out in advance of public hearings as a courtesy, not a requirement, said Dooley’s south county liaison, John Boesch.

Sister Mary Catherine Wesley said no one at the Monastery of St. Clare, which opened at its location behind 6050 Telegraph Road in 1959, received a postcard about the public hearing. In the past, however, the convent’s nuns had received the county’s public notices and had sent their maintenance man to represent them at hearings.

If the convent had received a postcard, it “definitely” would have sent a representative to the hearing, she added, noting the quiet way of life the order has adopted.

Past businesses, including those in the Tori Pines Commons shopping center, have planted a row of trees or frosted the windows facing the convent, at the nuns’ request, decisions that satisfied all sides in the rezoning hearings.

“Our way of life is supposed to be a hidden way of life,” she said. “It’s good to let (new businesses) know what you are, because this will impact our way of life.”

Boesch said he is investigating what appears to be a breakdown in the county’s usual notification system for public hearings.

“We are trying to address this communications error, where obviously people didn’t find out what was going on in their own community,” he said at the May 29 community meeting.

Haefner said the county has a picture of a sign giving notice of the public hearing on the property taken on March 1, 2012, but she doubts the sign remained there until the public hearing took place March 19, 2012, since so many parents go in and out of the Goddard School every day and, she believes, would have had to have seen the sign posted next door.

Even if parents had seen the sign, they would not have known what was going in next door, Haefner added, since the sign the county posted did not mention that the development would be 45 units or have 37 parking spaces.

“In my opinion, there was a concerted effort to keep from the public the size and scope of this project,” she said at the community meeting. “They had to work hard to keep this from the public.”

“I’m not saying that a HUD-funded … senior center is not appropriate for Oakville,” she said. “I can’t for the life of me see how this got through (the) Planning (Commission).”

For that, she blamed Stenger. He did not attend the community meeting and was the target of many of the residents speaking, who said they had not heard back from his office about their concerns.

“He’s spending his time telling us that he knows what’s best for our community instead of working with us to remedy this,” Haefner said.

Stenger told the Call he was unable to attend the meeting because of a previously scheduled meeting he had regarding the health of a family member who is battling a serious illness. He was informed of the meeting by Haefner after 9 p.m. the night before, when it was too late for him to change his meeting, he added.

“I truly appreciate the concerns of my citizens,” he said. “I would have loved to have been there.”

Stenger plans to host his own town-hall meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, June 7, at the main gymnasium at Oakville Senior High School, 5557 Milburn Road.

He said Haefner’s stated reasons for being against the development have changed since last week, when some residents initially expressed concerns that HUD housing could bring criminals to Oakville.

“At first, she complained about the HUD nature of the project,” he said. “When that became a public issue and then started to tarnish her image, she then switched to the size of the building and the lost notifications.”

“I really hope that no one has the impression that I don’t want a senior project or a HUD project in Oakville,” Haefner said. “My point is the location is not appropriate.”