Planning commission tables Despotis petition for bank

Planning commission tables Despotis petition for bank

By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

The Sunset Hills Planning and Zoning Commission voted Nov. 9 to table a proposal for further consideration for the commercial rezoning of three residential properties on West Watson Road near Court Drive.

The commission voted 7-0 Nov. 9 to table a proposal submitted by George Despotis to rezone 12405, 12411 and 12417 W. Watson Road from residential to commercial to allow for a motor-vehicle oriented business, in this case a bank. Commissioner Brian VanCardo was absent.

The proposal calls for the redevelopment of the properties to allow for a bank with three drive-thru teller lanes and one ATM lane. According to a staff report, the preliminary development plan meets requirements aside from a variance for the buffer along the north property line.

This is not the first time Despotis has appeared before the Planning and Zoning Commission requesting to redevelop the properties. Three times over the course of 2015 to 2017, Despotis presented plans to the city to rezone the 2010 tornado-damaged property on West Watson, Lindbergh and Court Drive to allow for a mixed-use development. All three plans were denied and Despotis ultimately filed a suit against the city.

This most recent plan heard by the commission comes after a judge ruled in July that the city’s repeated denial

to rezone the tornado-damaged property from residential was “unreasonable, arbitrary and violated” Despotis’s constitutional rights. The July judgment was later amended in October to award the plaintiffs the attorney’s fees totaling $509,375, taxed against the city, after the plaintiffs filed a petition for fees under “special circumstances” to the general rule that a party must cover its own attorney and litigation expenses. Those special circumstances under Missouri law include “very unusual circumstances” that exist that equity “demands a balance of benefits” as well as a party’s “frivolous conduct, recklessness or the absence of substantial legal grounds,” both of which were cited in the final judgment.

For the latest plan, Despotis is seeking a conditional use permit and zoning change from R-2 residential to PD-LC planned development – limited commercial for the three properties on West Watson to operate a bank.

“Quite frankly, in light of the recent court decisions, that’s why we’re back before you this evening with the plan we have. We’ve always felt and still feel that this a great, transitional-type use … It is commercial … but it’s a low-traffic generating use,” land planner Jim Hall said of Hall Associates. 

A traffic study which was required for the development indicated that in order for the ingress and egress to the property from Lindbergh Boulevard to operate at an acceptable level, there could be no left turn out of the site heading north on Lindbergh. The traffic study, conducted by CBB Transportation, predicted only 50 new trips would be generated as a result of the development at weekday midday and end-of-day peak hours and Saturday peak hours.

“We still feel that this a great transitional use and that the intensity of the use is minimal,” Hall added.

Assistant City Planner Lynn Sprick questioned if Despotis still owned the parcel directly north of the proposal site and if any thought was given to consolidating the lots so that the bank’s entrance would be directly across from the driveway across Lindbergh to minimize traffic concerns.

Despotis replied that property was under contract until litigation is complete but he was not interested in consolidating the lots at this time.

“Under the current conditions, it’s not economically feasible… I think the best approach would be if and when this gets approved, we move to the north and we come up with a tenet that would be feasible and plausible for the city,” Despotis said. “A lot of this is predicated on this approval and other issues.”

Two residents wrote in their opposition to the proposal, which were read into the record by Planning and Zoning Assistant Sarina Cape.

“West Watson has become a major thoroughfare … the traffic has increased at an alarming rate … many of the cars are going over the speed limit,” West Wason resident Sharyl Parashak stated in her written comments to the commission. “West Watson is not built for the amount of traffic that occurs … Any increase of cars from a new business would only make a bad situation worse.”

In another submitted public comment, another West Watson resident Bernita Wolf stated “We are outraged that Mr. Despotis is trying again to rezone properties on our street from residential to commercial … for a credit union with a drive-thru,” Wolf said. “We are not underserved for banks and do not need another banking facility in our city.”