Haefner wants vote on zoning for senior complex site

Sinkholes near building site pose hazard, residents say

By Gloria Lloyd

Oakville’s state and county officials are again at odds over the National Church Residences complex at 6050 Telegraph Road.

Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville, told residents at her latest town-hall meeting that 6th District County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, should bring the rezoning of the senior apartment complex to a County Council vote as soon as possible, even if he doesn’t have the votes to overturn the site’s zoning.

“He has the ability every Tuesday to have this on the council agenda,” she said. “He will not get support until he brings it up — I don’t understand what his deal is here. I truly believe that every council member needs to own their vote.”

Other council members might bring up the issue if Stenger does not, she told the roughly 100 people who attended her Oct. 23 town-hall meeting. She said she invited every member of the County Council, including Stenger, to the meeting.

“We’re in limbo,” Haefner told the Call. “I think we’re entitled to a vote, I really do. And the only one who can make that happen is Steve Stenger. He needs to put that in motion, put it to a vote, take the first vote and — wherever the chips fall — whatever happens, happens. But he needs to give us residents of Oakville a direction on what to do next.”

Haefner said Oakville residents are growing frustrated with what they see as a lack of communication from Stenger on the issue. Stenger does not yet have any votes to overturn the zoning for the disputed senior apartment complex, but is trying to get the votes necessary to overturn a threatened veto by County Executive Charlie Dooley, who has said he fears a lawsuit if the county overturns an already-approved zoning.

From the time the council received the Planning Commission’s recommendation in favor of the zoning for the complex site in late August, Stenger had three months to bring council members to his side.

“It’s not really in limbo — there’s a political process that’s moving forward,” Stenger told the Call. “Bringing it to a vote at this point would just be a denial — why would she want to call for a denial at this point when there’s the possibility that votes could be had?”

If Stenger does not have the votes at this point, Haefner doubts he will be able to convince fellow council members in the next month. The most prominent opponent of the complex, Cindy Pyatt, is the owner of a preschool next door, the Goddard School. Pyatt has spent tens of thousands of dollars on attorneys’ fees so far, Haefner said, noting that Pyatt cannot move forward with any other legal method to halt the complex until the issue is resolved at the county level. In the meantime, National Church Residences has framed all three stories of its building.

“I truly mean no disrespect to him, I’m not trying to cause a stir. I’m just speaking for people I talk to every day — they want a vote, and he’s the only one who can make that happen,” Haefner said. “If there’s anything I can do to help make that happen or help him get to the place we want to be, I’m more than happy to do that.

“The ball’s in his court right now, and being silent isn’t helping.”

Stenger initiated the rezoning process at the county level through a little-known ordinance that allowed the council to send an approved zoning back to the Planning Commission for another zoning hearing.

In August, the Planning Commission voted to reject the rezoning 6-1, with Oakville resident Bill Sneed voting to overturn the zoning.

Since the issue of the building’s zoning returned to the County Council, some Oakville residents have addressed the council to warn that the building poses an imminent danger of “death or injury” to its residents due to nearby sinkholes.

“Putting a large amount of weight on that area — such as a three-story building with 86 unsuspecting seniors, all of their furniture and their 37 cars — would be a recipe for catastrophic disaster,” resident Lynn Link told the council Sept. 3. “Just one of these factors increases the chance of a catastrophic event. All of them combined ensures it.

“Imagine (a jury’s) faces as they discover that all of this evidence had already been given to St. Louis County in the summer of 2013, and yet the county did nothing to stop the project. … Then imagine the verdict …”

A spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources did not respond to the Call’s request for comment about the sinkholes in Oakville.

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, or MSD, requires a geotechnical study that includes sample borings for sinkholes to be submitted for new development. NCR filed its study with MSD more than a year ago, said Karen Twinem, spokeswoman for NCR.

The study looking at sinkholes also followed regulations set out by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, which is financing the $6.7 million construction of the apartment complex.

“HUD sets the minimum number (of borings) and the county sets the minimum depth,” Twinem said. “And in all of those borings, there were no voids, no evidence of any sinkholes. MSD gave us the permit, and they’re fine with it. We did everything by the book.”

The Oakville Area Study, which the county Department of Planning uses as a guide for zoning in Oakville, notes that much of Oakville is less developed than other areas of the county because of its unique environmental features, including sinkholes.

Oakville’s sinkholes are primarily concentrated in the area east of Telegraph Road, where the three-story complex is being built.