Panel to weigh decisions on subdivision, cell tower

Subdivision neighbors raise concerns about historic home

By Gloria Lloyd

The county Planning Commission could decide Monday whether to recommend a number of proposals for south county, including a 30-acre subdivision and cell tower off Telegraph Road in Oakville and three new housing developments in Lemay.

The planning panel is slated to meet at 6 p.m. Oct. 6 in the County Council Chambers at the Administration Building, 41 S. Central Ave., Clayton.

At an Aug. 18 public hearing for a 30-acre subdivision proposed by Atlanta-based Pulte Homes at 7676 and 7672 Fine Road off Telegraph Road in Oakville, several residents asked the Planning Commission to reject the plans as presented since Pulte did not propose any way to save the Fine-Eiler House on the property, which is the oldest historic house in Oakville and dates from the early 1800s.

At a Sept. 8 executive committee meeting, the panel voted 6-0 to hold the plans for safety concerns regarding retaining walls of to up to 28 feet that could directly adjoin existing subdivisions’ backyards without any safety fences.

Debi Salberg of the county Department of Planning noted that the subdivision would require extensive grading and blasting, shaving off 30 feet of elevation at the site and holding up existing development through retaining walls.

“You’re just making something for a kid to get killed, you know?” said Planning Commission member Matthew Lampe of north county.

“If it was my subdivision, I’d probably want a fence,” Salberg agreed.

Without fences, the walls are much higher than the county is comfortable with, so county officials are mandating that all retaining walls be placed on common ground and 30 feet away from houses in the new subdivision, which means there will probably be fewer than the 57 houses Pulte proposes, Salberg noted.

The site plans and engineering for the site essentially have to be entirely reconfigured since the setback will impact the lot sizes for Pulte’s proposed houses — which also gives the developer an opportunity to use a lot to save the Fine-Eiler House.

Planning panel member Rob Forney of Kirkwood said he could not vote for the subdivision for a number of reasons, including the developer’s disregard of the Fine-Eiler House, which the Missouri Preservation Commission has declared one of the state’s most endangered historic landmarks.

“It’s designated historic by St. Louis County in the ’60s and ’70s, so it’s a substantially important house that this developer has decided to pay no attention to,” Forney said. “I think that it’s a big mistake to approve something with no regard to this historic property at all.”

Matt Segal of Pulte said that the developer was not aware of the historic house on the property, which the property’s real-estate agent, Kelly Messmer, said current owner Betty Eiler does not want to save and does not consider historic.

Forney also pointed to other problems with the project: A traffic study has not yet determined whether one of the proposed subdivision entrances onto Telegraph Road will work, and people who buy houses at the site will be warned they are buying next to both Ameren’s Meramec Energy Center and next to the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District’s Lower Meramec Wastewater Treatment Plant.

During a Sept. 15 public hearing, RF Alternatives presented a proposal for a 124-foot telecommunications tower and compound at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church at 4456 Telegraph Road in Oakville, directly adjacent to the school’s playground and the Oberweis ice cream shop.

The church property is surrounded by commercial property on Telegraph Road, with residential property behind.

Russell Been from RF Alternatives told the panel they haven’t seen anything yet as far as cell tower proposals. He already had a 150-foot tower approved this year at Assumption Church on Mattis Road in Concord.

“We’re kind of at the front end of this where you’re going to see a lot of proposals come in for new towers,” he said. “I think you’ve got about three years when you’re going to get a ton of proposals … Anywhere that there’s not a steeple, a water tank, a 20-story rooftop, you’re going to see a proposal for a tower.”

Of the 25 people attending the public hearing, four speakers opposed the tower, including two members of the St. Francis Parish Council.

“I’m on the Parish Council, which voted for this, although I had some mixed emotions,” said Tom Gonzalez. “It is literally going to abut a small children’s playground, and I happen to know that because I drop my kid off every day at St. Francis. It just strikes me as an inappropriate place to put a 124-foot cell tower.”

Another speaker, Dan Ambrose, opposed the tower because he owns property four lots down from the church that is already zoned commercial and wanted to build a cell tower there. However, the panel unanimously rejected the tower twice in August, without holding a public hearing.

The Lemay Housing Partnership proposes 40 detached houses on three sites within a half mile in Lemay, which it would offer to low-income residents through 15-year leases that could lead to full ownership.

Lemay Homes Inc. is requesting residential R-6A or R-5 zoning on three lots, 9624 Joplin Ave., 9410 S. Broadway and 9518 S. Broadway. The former is currently zoned R-5 and the latter lots are currently zoned C-2 commercial.

The houses are paid for through grants for low-income housing, which mandate that the residents make less than 60 percent of the median income of the area — a profile that fits many of the residents in Lemay, especially east of Broadway, Executive Director Reginald Scott told the planning panel. The panel met without a quorum for the first 15 minutes of the hearing until member Molly McHugh arrived.

Jason Carbone, executive director of the Lemay Development Corp., spoke in favor of the Housing Partnership’s proposal since it is consistent with the Lemay Comprehensive Plan and because there “needs to be additional high-quality housing in the community to support economic development.”

“The homes that we’re building will be nothing but a positive for the community,” said Lynette Huddleston, who serves on the board of the Lemay Housing Partnership but spoke to the planning panel as an individual in favor of the proposal.

A show of hands from the 25 people in attendance at the hearing showed that 15 people were in favor, and none had any concern about the petition.