New Sunset Hills zoning code makes way for wave of cluster homes

Letter to the Editor

To the editor:

The city of Sunset Hills is trying a trick play with its new zoning code. There are two major changes that will directly and adversely impact the residents.

First, the new code will reduce the number of zoning districts from six to four.

Lot sizes in three of the zoning districts are reduced. R-1 remains one acre, but R-2 is reduced from 20,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet, R-3 is reduced from 15,000 square feet to 7,500 square feet and R-4 is reduced from 10,000 square feet to 5,000 square feet.

Why? According to the city’s summary, this is the result of “discussions with staff and nonconformities analysis,” whatever that is. Nonconformities can be grandfathered in with a simple paragraph. These zoning classifications have been in existence for decades.

Zoning laws are designed to bring consistency and cohesiveness in development. Changing them now will bring the opposite.

The new code also permits single-family attached residences in R-2, R-3 and R-4 districts and multifamily dwellings as part of a planned development in all residential districts, including R-1 and R-2. By the way, Kirkwood has six residential districts and St. Louis County has eight.

Second, the section governing planned development districts is completely revised. The current ordinance, with its requirement of 10 acres for residential planned development communities, or “cluster homes,” will be gone.

Also gone are the strict standards for building setbacks, buffers, floor space, maximum site coverage, density, open space, et cetera. In their place are soft guidelines such as “conform with the general planning policies of the city,” “shall not substantially diminish or impair property values in the neighborhood,” “adequate buffering,” et cetera. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a nearby development to have any adverse impact on my property value, substantial or otherwise.

After participating in the defeat of two cluster home proposals in Ward 3 along Robyn Road, I know that arguments based upon subjective factors can easily fall on deaf ears.

If the new ordinance is enacted, it will be much more difficult to defeat unwanted cluster home developments.

And here is the trick play. The residents in my neighborhood recently defeated a proposal for cluster homes by Fischer & Frichtel.

We did this in part by utilizing the protest provision in the current zoning code which provides that if a development requires a text amendment — a change in the language of the ordinance — or a zoning change in order to gain approval, 30 percent of property owners within 185 feet of the development may file a protest.

If sufficient protests are filed, six members of the Board of Aldermen, a supermajority, must approve the development.

Under the new code, the protest provision has been changed to require 30 percent of the property owners within 600 feet of development to file protests. Further, because the new code replaces the strict standards with soft guidelines, no text amendment is required for approval of a cluster home development regardless of the lot size and other characteristics.

And because the new code provides that a planned development is an overlay district — it sits over the existing zoning, which does not change — no zoning change is needed for approval.

In short, once the new zoning code is enacted, it will be easy for the city to approve the Fischer & Frichtel proposal because the use of protests will not be available to the residents.

One more kicker, if the Planning and Zoning Commission approves a planned development, there is no public hearing before the Board of Aldermen.

The city has come up with a plan to get rid of those pesky residents like me who don’t want cluster homes in their neighborhoods with the new zoning code. It eliminates the residents’ use of the protest provision with cluster home developments.

Stay tuned for a cluster home development near you.

Gary Vincent
Sunset Hills

Editor’s note: Mr. Vincent is a former Crestwood alderman.

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