Panel eyeing Court Drive, West Watson Road ‘off and running’

Nolan tells Call he’s pleased with organizational meeting.

By MIKE ANTHONY

A task force charged with studying the residential redevelopment of Court Drive and West Watson Road west of South Lindbergh Boulevard in Sunset Hills is “off and running,” according to Mayor Bill Nolan.

Eight members of the 10-person task force attended an organizational lunch last week, selecting James Williams as chairman and Frank Pellegrini as vice chairman.

Nolan established the task force after the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted June 1 to reject an amendment to change Sunset Hills’ comprehensive plan to provide for commercial and attached-unit residential uses of the area, which was devastated by the New Year’s Eve tornado that swept through the city.

The proposed amendment to the comprehensive plan would have encompassed all property on Court Drive not already designated for commercial use, the first six properties along the north side of West Watson Road west of South Lindbergh Blvd. and 3851 and 3863 S. Lindbergh Blvd.

More than 20 people addressed the Planning and Zoning Commission during the June 1 public hearing with the vast majority of speakers opposed to changing the comprehensive plan. After a resolution to approve the amendment to the comprehensive plan failed for lack of a motion, the commission voted 7-1 to deny the proposed changes to the plan.

Commission Chairman Rodney Stecher cast the dissenting vote while commission member John Littlefield, a former Ward 2 alderman, abstained.

During the public hearing, several speakers who live on Court Drive and West Watson Road urged the commission to keep the area residential, voicing concerns about commercial encroachment into a residential area and additional traffic.

Nolan previously said he was disappointed with the outcome of the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. He had envisioned Court Drive and West Watson Road west of South Lindbergh as “a commercial area properly bermed and fenced and tree-lined behind them and an entrance to Court coming off of West Watson.”

The goal was to help those residents whose homes were destroyed by the tornado, according to Nolan, who said a number of properties were already under contract and those properties would be more valuable as commercial than residential.

“If, in fact, the community wants it to be residential, then let’s figure out how to do it. I’m a great guy for lemonade. If it doesn’t go the way you want, immediately turn around and do it the way they want …,” he told the Call earlier this month when he announced he was forming the task force.

Besides Williams and Pellegrini, other residents serving on the task force include:

• Ward 2 Alderman Scott Haggerty, a real estate agent.

• Robert Baer.

• James Sullentrop.

• Nick Dragan.

• William Bollinger.

• Robert Mayer.

• David Witbrodt.

• Drew Stitz.

Of the 10 task force members, four spoke at the Planning and Zoning Commission hearing and voiced their opposition to changing the comprehensive plan.

Those four included two West Watson Road residents, Witbrodt and Sullentrop; Bollinger, who told the commission he was representing 20 homeowners in Fox Bridge Estates; and Mayer, a former Ward 4 alderman who said he was on the Board of Aldermen when the comprehensive plan was approved.

All the task force members except Haggerty and Dragan — who had prior commitments — attended last week’s organizational meeting, Nolan said last week.

The mayor said he was pleased with the meeting, noting every member participated in the discussion.

“… They didn’t waste any time in setting up a schedule, and at one point the chairman, Jim, actually said: You know, guys, we may want to meet more than once a week,” Nolan said. “So everybody understands that we’ve got to find a resolution and there’s no reason to take a year to do it.”

Quite a bit of brainstorming was done at the meeting, he said.

“It was interesting to me that when they started thinking outside of the box, they thought of other options other than their charge,” the mayor said. “In other words, they’re there to determine if it can be done residentially but the fact of the matter is there were other ideas that were thrown out … They’re looking at other forms of residential. They were talking about portions of it. They were talking about this building could be saved, this building’s still there and these people need to stay. It was really good …”

The task force planned to conduct its first official meeting Tuesday afternoon at City Hall — after the Call went to press.

“There’s goals and a timetable, and the timetable they’re going to try and settle on it next Tuesday,” Nolan said. “And they’re also going to try to sit down and delineate exactly what the goals are to get it done. So it was a very positive, very aggressive group.

“… They’re vitally interested in seeing this done,” he said of the task force members. “So they’re off and running and well, obviously, they have a lunch on a Thursday and schedule a meeting for the following Tuesday, they’re not going to let any grass grow under them.”