When Oakville residents showed up by the hundreds last summer for a series of town-hall meetings on the federally funded National Church Residences senior apartment complex at 6050 Telegraph Road, they contended that the county’s notification procedures on zoning need to change.
Based on that feedback, a committee of county officials has recommended that the county change its notification standards and mail out more postcards in advance of the county Planning Commission’s zoning hearings.
The Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing on the proposals at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24, in the County Council Chambers at the Administration Building, 41 S. Central Ave., Clayton.
Regardless of whether the county changes its zoning notifications, Oakville’s representatives in the Missouri Legislature, Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, and Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville, plan to introduce state legislation to improve how counties and municipalities notify their residents about zoning matters.
Both the state and county efforts are meant to prevent a situation like what happened last summer in Oakville from happening again.
In that case, residents say they received no notification that a three-story, 45-unit apartment complex for senior citizens was being built feet away from the Goddard School, a preschool for children, and next to the Monastery of St. Clare. Unaware of the rezoning for more than a year, residents rebelled when Ohio-based National Church Residences, or NCR, began construction on the complex last May, with many objecting to the size and location of the building.
After the furor erupted, 6th District Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, convinced the County Council to send the building’s zoning back to the Planning Commission for another zoning hearing.
Last August, the commission approved the project again.
“I think people are still very upset about the National Church Residences development, and I think the remedy going forward is to make sure we have robust notice procedures for people who live in unincorporated areas,” Sifton said. “And I’m working on that in Jefferson City right now.”
One of the proposals Sifton is considering introducing is a requirement that zoning notices appear in a widely read newspaper.
“They should be in a newspaper that the people in the community actually read, not some trade publication that few, if any, people in the district actually read,” he said.
In an exchange with Oakville resident Christine Parrott at a town-hall meeting on the NCR building hosted by Stenger in June, county land-use manager Gail Choate told the audience that the county publishes its zoning notices in The Countian, a legal notice newspaper with a circulation of 5,000 that has limited availability in Oakville and is primarily read by lawyers.
“It meets our requirements,” Choate said.
“It doesn’t meet ours,” Parrott replied.
Under the committee’s proposals, the county would amend the zoning ordinance and expand on its current notifications by mailing postcards about upcoming public hearings to not just the owners of property within 1,000 feet of the subject site, but also to the neighboring properties themselves.
That change was suggested by business owners near the NCR site who rent their business property. Since they are tenants and not listed as a nearby property owner, they received no rezoning notice about the apartment complex proposed next door.
Many of the property owners themselves, such as the nuns of the Monastery of St. Clare and Goddard School owner Cindy Pyatt, said they also did not receive any of the notifications mailed for either the original zoning public hearing or a pair of zoning adjustment hearings that allowed NCR to build an overhang several feet from the Goddard School.
The committee also suggested mandating that the county mail postcards about public hearings to subdivision trustees within half a mile of the proposed site up for zoning, if the trustee is listed in the county’s voluntary database of trustees.
The county’s notifications committee, formed after Stenger’s resolution last summer, met twice last fall and was comprised of Council Chairwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, 3rd District Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country, 5th District Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights, their council assistants Jacqueline Carr, Mike Chapman and Eric Fey, Planning Commission Chair Wayne Hilzinger and Planning Commission members William Ballard and Bill Sneed.
Department of Planning Director Glenn Powers and Choate also attended the meetings and advised the panel.
The panel compiled a comparison of how St. Louis County municipalities and counties nationwide handle zoning notifications and found that the county actually did more than many other governments, Fey said.
“When we looked at it, our notification process was in line, above and beyond, what almost everybody else in the county does,” he said. “I can’t really speak to what happened in that one particular situation, but you know, the policies are in line with everybody else. The county’s notification process is definitely more robust than the vast majority of municipalities in the county.”
Under current rules, the county is required to run a zoning notice in a newspaper “of general circulation in St. Louis County” 15 days prior to a zoning public hearing and place a 36-inch sign on the land itself. As a courtesy, the county sends postcards to property owners within 1,000 feet of the zoning site, posts the zoning on its website and emails the notice to those who subscribe to its email alert service. The proposals upgrade the postcards to a requirement.
Besides the proposed changes to the zoning ordinance, the Department of Planning is going to adopt committee recommendations, including:
Placing real-estate information boxes near public hearing signs, with sheets giving out more information about the zoning proposal for the site.
Sending press releases to print, television and radio media outlets publicizing the zoning hearing.
Featuring the public hearing in the events section of the county website.
Publicizing the zoning alert email service to attendees of public hearings.
Adding a line to the speaker card at public hearings asking for email addresses for the alert service.
Publicizing the hearings on the Department of Planning’s Facebook page.
Placing public hearing signs in a “V” shape on the zoning site.