New boundaries OK’d for Ward 3, Ward 4 in Sunset Hills

Court Drive residents divided over future of neighborhood

By MIKE ANTHONY

An ordinance redrawing the boundaries of Ward 3 and Ward 4 was adopted last week by the Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen.

Aldermen voted 5-0 Oct. 11 to approve the ordinance redrawing the boundaries of Ward 3 and Ward 4. Ward 2 Alderman Tom Hrastich and Ward 3 Aldermen Jan Hoffmann and Stephen Webb were absent.

The city’s Redistricting Committee had voted last month to recommend the plan that moves a small section of Ward 4 into Ward 3, affecting a total of 79 residents.

Committee Chairman Frank Gregory, a former Ward 4 alderman, presented the redistricting proposal to the Board of Aldermen.

“Chairing a committee like this is really simple when you’ve got a group of citizens that really want to do the very best for the community,” Gregory said. “It was a pleasure working with them. As chairman, basically all I had to do was just open the meeting and close it. I mean it just went fabulously.”

Committee members included: Jim Rode and Drew Baebler of Ward 1; Mary Wuennenberg and Cliff Underwood of Ward 2; Ann Ludlow of Ward 3; and Art Havener and former Mayor Mike Svoboda of Ward 4.

The committee met twice before arriving at its recommendation, Gregory said.

At the first meeting, an organizational-type meeting, the committee established the following goals:

• Move as few people as possible.

• Try not to split census blocks.

• Not displace any current aldermen.

• Try to retain precinct blocks.

At the second meeting on Sept. 2, Gregory told the board, “… We came up with five basic options as to what we might want to do with our redistricting. After some very good discussion, we ended up with the information you have in front of you now and, quite honestly, it met all the criteria that we established …”

The area is generally bounded by In-state 270 to the north and east and Weber Hill Road to the south. It includes the Grandview neighborhood.

The approved plan increases the Ward 3 population to 2,166 and decreases that of Ward 4 to 2,221.

The population of Wards 1 and 2 remain unchanged at 2,055 people and 2,039 people, respectively.

As a result, the deviation between the largest and smallest wards falls into compliance at 8.6 percent.

Results from the 2010 census showed Sunset Hills’ four wards were uneven and needed new boundaries. Based on a total census population of 8,496, the target population for each Sunset Hills ward should be 2,124.

However, the deviation between the city’s largest ward — Ward 4, with 2,300 people — and smallest ward — Ward 2, with 2,039 people — is 12.2 percent, exceeding a 10-percent maximum under the formula used to determine compliance with the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

Sunset Hills’ last redistricting on record was in 1997 when the city annexed 422 acres and added 1,310 residents.

In a separate matter last week, Jim Sansone of the Sansone Group addressed the board, informing aldermen of his company’s efforts in working with the Court Drive Residents Task Force, a group of Court Drive residents who have requested a change in the city’s comprehensive plan for the area devastated by the New Year’s Eve tornado.

Three public hearings — including one requested by the Court Drive Residents Task Force — involving the potential redevelopment of Court Drive and West Watson Road will be conducted Wednesday, Nov. 2, at the Community Center by the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

“… I’m hopeful that at some point in your future that we would be in front of this board requesting a zoning change, a site plan approval, other things,” Sansone said. “But that seems by the current steps that have been taken, a long, long ways way. So our interest is simply in getting the comprehensive plan modified so that an appropriate plan by somebody at some point could presented to the board …”

Noting that the Sansone Group previously has been involved in developments in Sunset Hills, he said, “… We have 22 million square feet of real estate that we operate in 12 states … We’re involved in retail, office, apartments and industrial and the only use that we think is appropriate for this property — we looked at grocery store first.

“We looked at retail — all uses that we’d love to be able to put (there). It doesn’t make sense for the area. What we think is that the designation is certainly not residential because from a residential standpoint, the values that could be paid to these people is far below — far below — the market rate.

“The prices that we have on properties, those 13 or so that you saw in yellow (on an overhead map), are their pre-tornado value … Post-tornado value? They’re worth about $2 a square foot, which is what a residential developer would have paid coming in.

“So if you have a 20,000-square-foot lot, that’s $40,000,” he continued, adding that $3 per square foot might be a possibility. “Now that comes from top residential developers in St. Louis that we have personally spoke with and we also have as our partner the Borzillo family. They’re our joint-venture partner on this project …”

Sansone, whose company has roughly a dozen or so properties in the area under contract, said tentative plans call for some type of retail fronting Lindbergh Boulevard and a senior living center in the back of the area.

He later said of the proposed redevelopment, “… It has to be fully built and operating before we make dime one and as you may or may not know, we’re not asking for a penny from the city. This would be a redevelopment project that we have yet to see happen in St. Louis of this scale that’s not requesting a subsidy …”

The roughly 10-acre site currently is zoned R-2 single-family residential with a 20,000-square-foot minimum lot size.

The Planning and Zoning Commission voted June 1 to reject an amendment to change the comprehensive master plan to provide for commercial and attached-unit residential uses of the area.

“… I would have thought six months ago we would have had a comprehensive plan change,” Sansone said. “So, we’re ready to go. We wouldn’t be doing this because it’s six months longer than we ever would have guessed. The margins aren’t real strong for the return on this project.

“If it were (all) retail, it would be. It’s not. So we’re staying in this because we still think it makes sense. But quite frankly, if we don’t start receiving the necessary support and approvals — and that’s one of the reasons why we’re here tonight — we won’t be here because we have to work on projects that we think have a reasonable chance of success …”