Legality of Crestwood panel’s motion questioned by school district officials

Zoning attorney to represent Lindbergh when issue goes before city’s aldermen

By Mike Anthony

Lindbergh Schools officials question the legality of a motion approved last week by the Crestwood Planning and Zoning Commission regarding the district’s expansion plans for Long Elementary School.

The Planning and Zoning Commission conducted a public hearing March 6 on Lindbergh Schools’ request for a preliminary plat approval for improvements at Long Elementary School, including a traffic plan that proposes a gated exit at Doercrest Drive that five buses will use twice a day to access Eddie & Park Road.

Following the public hearing, the commission voted unanimously “to recommend the plan as submitted with modifications to the safety concerning the egress at Doecrest and the intersection of Eddie & Park and Doercrest.” Commission Chairman Pat Kapsar and commission member Steve Nieder were absent last week.

Of the motion, Lindbergh Superintendent Jim Simpson told the Call, “… The gist we got out of it was you’re going to have to come back with a plan that doesn’t go out through Doercrest Drive.”

Asked if the commission had the authority to make that stipulation, he said, “We don’t think so, and for that reason, we have employed a noted zoning attorney because I think we have rights that are being overlooked.”

Attorney John King will represent the school district when the Board of Aldermen considers Lindbergh’s request for a preliminary plat approval. The Board of Aldermen will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 26, at the Government Center, 1 Detjen Drive.

“… We have rights and those rights are guaranteed by law and by court, so now we want to make sure we outline those rights, and we hope Crestwood agrees with those rights …,” Simpson said.

“We want to be strong partners as we always have been with the city of Crestwood. I mean, it’s the best city in the state to raise kids because we have a strong partnership between the city and the school district. By far, the vast majority of children in Crestwood go to Lindbergh schools, and we were disappointed that the P and Z did not see what we considered the Mount Everest arguments of this, which is this traffic plan solves a terrible, dangerous and long-lasting — for decades — situation with traffic congestion and dangerous interactions of students between cars and buses …”

Late last year, Lindbergh paid $850,000 to buy 4.684 acres adjacent to Long Elementary, 9021 Sappington Road.

As proposed, improvements will include expansion of the existing parking lot, creation of a new entrance to the parking facility opposite Banyan Tree Court, removal of the existing exit to Sappington Road and creation of the gated-drive connection between the parking lot and Doercrest Drive.

In addition, existing structures will be razed to create two multipurpose athletic fields and a nature trail.

The Lindbergh Board of Education voted unanimously Feb. 12 to approve the improvement plan for Long. Total cost of the improvements is estimated at $450,000.

Doercrest Manor residents have said they are supportive of the overall improvements proposed for Long, but are concerned about the traffic plan for the school, contending the district’s plan would create a safety hazard for their neighborhood, students and motorists.

District officials, however, say the plan will improve safety by separating car and bus traffic, which Simpson has said is “the gold standard” for elementary school campuses. Lindbergh officials met twice with nearby residents and based on residents’ comments, modified the plan.

During the public hearing, four people spoke in opposition to the district’s plans for Long and four people spoke in support of the proposal. Also speaking was Crestwood Mayor Jeff Schlink, who said he wanted to make his position clear on Lindbergh’s proposal.

“… When it comes to the school board presenting their plan, I had said I have no plans on the city itself fighting the school district on the plan …,” he told the commission. “If we fight the school district on the plan, the school district’s going to be spending taxpayer dollars to do that. The city would be spending taxpayer dollars to do that. I didn’t see that as a win-win …”

As mayor, Schlink said he tries “to represent the interests of the city overall … People usually tell me they’re either for something or they’re against something. There’s not a lot of people that are somewhere in between. My objective was try … to get some folks, try to get some of these discussions that we have just more in the middle, so that we can collaborate a little bit more and so that we can compromise a little bit more …

“Regardless of how you all vote tonight, still moving forward, a decision is going to be made. Whether you approve it or you don’t approve it, some sort of collaboration’s going to have to happen with the school district, with the city and with the residents of Doercrest …,” he said.

Also speaking was Doercrest Drive resident Frank Ruzicka, who last month presented to the Board of Education a petition signed by more than 150 residents that stated, in part, those signing it support the proposed expansion of Long, but “stand firmly opposed to the use of Doercrest Manor as an access to Long School.”

“… If student safety and traffic congestion are the primary concern, then why are we moving that congestion and that safety concern off campus to the intersection of Eddie & Park and Doercrest Drive? This is where the arguments I made fell on deaf ears, and everybody was convinced that this was the safest plan,” he told the commission. “The plan, as they had it, encompassed the campus. It did not encompass the intersection of Doercrest and Eddie & Park …”

But Pardee Lane resident Matt Frank told the commission Lindbergh’s traffic plan will solve the safety problem that exists at Long.

Noting nearby residents have raised the issue of safety, he said, “The real safety concerns are within the property of Long. It’s the drop-off procedure. It’s the hundreds of kids every day that are navigating between buses, between cars, trying to get to the front door of their school. I feel like in a lot of these conversations, that focus is being lost …,” he said.

The impact of Lindbergh’s traffic plan on Doercrest Manor residents will be minimal, Frank said.

“… As a profession, I work in construction management, as well. You always shoot for the perfect plan. I think this is about as perfect as it gets for what the kids need now at Long. It’s a real problem that they face every day that they go there, and the engineer and the architect have done their due diligence. I think their plan is very thought out, and I would very much like to see it move forward,” he said.