Hundreds turn out to oppose Oakville senior housing complex

Developer’s attorney says construction will continue

By Gloria Lloyd

Dozens of Oakville residents got to do what they did not get to do last year: let county and National Church Residences officials hear their objections to an apartment complex for seniors now being built at 6050 Telegraph Road.

The opposition to the project crossed party lines, bringing two state legislators, Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville, and Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, to the County Council chambers Monday night to speak against the complex during a county Planning Commission hearing.

A sea of senior citizens also turned out to oppose the three-story, 41,778-square-foot senior housing complex, with representatives telling the council that the building is too large, on too small of a lot — 1.4 acres — and too close to the Goddard School, the preschool next door.

A non-binding show of hands taken at the end of the meeting showed 250 residents against the complex and 12 in support of the apartments. About 75 opponents remained outside the chambers, not allowed in due to concerns about fire codes. More than half of the people who raised their hands in support of the complex were employees or consultants of Ohio-based developer National Church Residences.

A nun from the Monastery of St. Clare next to the complex, Sister Mary Michael, said she would pray for the planning panel to do the right thing — and in the monastery’s mind, that means National Church Residences would stop construction on the housing complex. She outlined the monastery’s concerns that the 45-unit apartment complex could disturb the cloistered nuns of the monastery, who have been located on the site since 1959.

At its first public appearance in Missouri since the uproar began in late May, National Church Residences was represented by Clayton attorney John King, who also originally represented the developer in the hearings last year, for which Oakville residents, including Goddard School owner Cindy Pyatt, say they never received notice.

After no one spoke in opposition to the development in April 2012, the Planning Commission voted to recommend the R-8 residential rezoning to the County Council, which approved it unanimously in May 2012.

After listening for hours to speakers against the complex Monday night, King did not back down on the previous position of National Church Residences, that it has all required legal permissions and is still going to build the housing, funded by a $6.1 million Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, grant.

“We have building permits. And that’s why we have built this development,” King told the crowd, pounding the podium. “And we will continue to build this development until we are told to stop.”

With that opening, an opponent in the audience seized his chance.

“Stop,” came a single man’s voice from the crowd. “Stop!” joined in a few others. “Stop!” the crowd joined in.

King then corrected himself.

“Until we are told to stop by a court of legal jurisdiction,” he clarified, “we’re not going to stop, we’re going to continue to build … By the time this process is finished we will be up one story, and we will continue to build. And we will continue to operate this facility.”

On June 11, the County Council voted 5-1, with one abstention, to send the issue of the building’s zoning back to the Planning Commission for review.

The resolution, introduced by 6th District County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affon, stated the council’s intention is to initiate “reverting, changing or amending the zoning” of the site back to its original R-2 single-family residential zoning.

Sending a zoning matter back for a rehearing is “uncharted waters” for the Planning Commission, Chairman Wayne Hilzinger, of Oakville, previously told the Call.

After the Planning Commission receives the recommendation and report of the county Planning Department, it will vote in early August whether to recommend approval or denial to the County Council. County Executive Charlie Dooley has said he opposes the rezoning for fear of potential lawsuits, but the council could override a veto with a supermajority of five votes.