Lindbergh ‘bullied’ its way through approval process for Long expansion, Ruzicka contends

Crestwood followed codes, laws, city attorney says

By Kari Williams

Crestwood resident Frank Ruzicka claimed last week that Lindbergh Schools bullied its way through the approval process for the expansion of Long Elementary School into the adjacent Doercrest Manor subdivision.

Ruzicka said one of Lindbergh Schools’ points of contention during that process was that it was limited in the types of curb cuts it could have because of St. Louis County requirements.

“Clearly Lindbergh School District understands it has to sit and listen to St. Louis County, but when it comes to Crestwood, we don’t rate,” Ruzicka told the Crestwood Board of Aldermen. “It has been our contention that the Lindbergh School District has bullied and intimidated its way through this approval process.”

A Lindbergh Schools administrator, according to Ruzicka, told Doercrest residents “that the bar was lower for them” as far as planning and zoning requirements.

“When this issue came to you, they brought in a pinch hitter, John King, and he threatened us with eminent domain,” Ruzicka said.

Beth Johnston, Lindbergh Schools community relations director, told the Call “Lindbergh Schools would never consider using eminent domain toward its neighbors.”

In response to Ruzicka’s other comments about the district, Johnston said Lindbergh stands behind its previous statements and the district “look(s) forward to traffic improvements at Long Elementary School that will result in a safer environment for thousands of student and families for several generations.”

City Attorney Lisa Stump told the board that after reviewing files and speaking with City Administrator Mark Sime, it was determined that Crestwood followed the appropriate codes and “all its applicable laws” in relation to the Long Elementary School expansion. The issue at the beginning of process, according to Stump, was whether the district should have submitted a site plan. There were two reasons that did not occur, according Stump, and the city “was in compliance” with its handling of the situation.

“First of all, the code itself under the language provides that there doesn’t have to be site plan for (an) R-1 area, which is what this involved,” Stump said, “and secondly there is significant case law that says a government entity, a separate political subdivision, is not subject to zoning code or zoning regulations of a city under all circumstances …”

But Ruzicka contends that, according to Missouri Revised Statute 177.021, Lindbergh — or any school district — “has no lower bar or different set of review and approval criteria than any other entity.”

The statute states, “All real estate owned by any school district of this state is subject to the provisions of all orders, resolutions or ordinances of any county, city, town or village or other political subdivision or public corporation of this state, which relate to the erection, construction and maintenance of sewers and sewer systems, and of sidewalks, guttering, curbing and paving of the streets and alleys adjoining and abutting the real estate of the school districts and to the assessment of the costs thereof, to the same extent as that of private citizens of this state.”
Though Lindbergh Schools is a “separate political subdivision,” Ruzicka said it is still required to abide by state statutes.

“One could argue that they should be held to a higher standard because we’re dealing with (the) safety and welfare of children,” Ruzicka said. “This is the basis of our argument from day one …”

Ruzicka said “misinformation, misunderstanding and intimidation” are at the “root of the issue” with the Long Elementary School expansion and asked Stump to issue a stop-work order until the issues he raised can be “fully researched.”

“It’s clear to me that we have situation of an outgoing city attorney, a newly installed city administrator, a vacancy in public works and a Board of Aldermen that were confused, misdirected, intimidated, whatever the case may be,” Ruzicka said. “We need to review the current municipal code in light of (Missouri Revised Statute 177.021) and make sure the Lindbergh School District is in complete compliance with the code.”

While Stump said that particular statute is “a little more limiting,” she is not aware of “any specific provision” that is not being complied with.

Several residents Doercrest Manor residents, including Ruzicka, have said that while they support the expansion and improvement of the school’s campus, they oppose the district’s traffic plan. That plan calls for a gated exit at Doercrest Drive that five buses will use twice a day to access Eddie & Park Road.

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

The Long Elementary improvements 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, the expansion will feature two multipurpose athletic fields and a nature trail.