Nolan vetoes Sunset Hills board’s OK of Mexican restaurant at Econo Lodge

Parking spaces ‘questionable in size,’ alderman contends

By Gloria Lloyd

The Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen voted to approve a Mexican restaurant in an embattled motel last week, but two days later, Mayor Bill Nolan vetoed the ordinance in light of questions about the site plan submitted by the developer.

The veto may have been the first in the history of Sunset Hills, Nolan said. He sent Assistant Zoning Enforcement Officer Patricia Moore to check out the site the day after the vote, and Moore discovered that the site plan submitted with the restaurant’s application for a conditional-use permit, or CUP, did not match the parking actually at the site, at the Econo Lodge at 3730 S. Lindbergh Blvd.

“The way it was shown on the parking lot is not the way it was shown on what they gave us,” Nolan told the Call, adding that the parking spaces listed were the wrong size, in the wrong places, with no handicapped parking available.

After Moore confirmed the problems with the parking plan, Nolan vetoed the ordinance approving the CUP on Jan. 16. Moore told the owner of the Econo Lodge, Shaiq Amir, that he would have to restripe the parking lot for the restaurant to go forward.

If the veto is not overridden at the board’s February meetings and the restaurant resubmits an accurate parking plan and restripes its parking lot, the plans could be approved in March, Nolan said.

During the discussion about the Mexican restaurant at the board’s Jan. 14 meeting, Ward 3 Alderman Kurt Krueger objected to the parking and plans set out by the proposed restaurant’s owner, Rogelio Estrada Lopez, who also operates a restaurant in Millstadt, Ill.

The board voted 5-3 not to send the plans back to the Planning and Zoning Commission, then voted 5-3 to approve the CUP, with Krueger, Ward 2 Alderman Tom Musich and Ward 1 Alderman Richard Gau dissenting each time.

“I think that there’s some parking discrepancies,” Krueger said. “I believe that the proposed parking spaces are questionable in size, whether they actually meet the city requirements.”

He asked City Engineer Bryson Baker if he had verified the information included in the plans, including the width and depth of parking spaces. Baker said city staff had verified that the information included in the plans aligned with city code, but had not verified anything at the site itself.

After a Sunset Hills police officer investigating a domestic argument uncovered a methamphetamine lab set up by a guest in one of the Econo Lodge’s rooms last fall, the motel has been under extra police and city scrutiny, with Police Chief William LaGrand giving a monthly report on any criminal activities at the motel.

In his report to the board last week, LaGrand said that he had no new information about the Econo Lodge. In his reports over the last few months, LaGrand has also said the motel has been compliant and experienced no issues.

Although Krueger objected to the site plan, which showed no special loading area, Lopez said that he would not be receiving food from any trucks and would be driving his own small truck to work every day with produce from the restaurant depot.

“I’m not clear how this is going to impede parking or traffic,” Ward 4 Alderman Art Havener said. “The guy’s going to pull up in a little truck.”

City Attorney Robert E. Jones said he could find nothing in the city’s ordinances that prohibited a loading area in a driveway, even if Lopez wanted to pull up to the restaurant’s back door.