Public hearing on zoning notifications draws sparse crowd

Changes need to go further, panel told by three speakers

By Gloria Lloyd

The county Planning Commission conducted a public hearing last week on changes to its notification process, but the crowd was a fraction of what it was for hearings last summer about the Oakville senior housing complex that started it all.

Although property owners, business owners and residents around the National Church Residences complex at 6050 Telegraph Road said they did not receive the county’s postcards two years ago to notify them of the new building, county officials said they sent nearby owners zoning postcards as a courtesy.

Among the proposed changes to county zoning ordinances are upgrading the postcards to requirements and also sending them to business and residence addresses, not just owners’ addresses, and sending postcards to nearby subdivision trustees.

Some of the policies the county Department of Planning says it will adopt include placing real-estate information boxes near zoning signs, which would be placed in a “V” shape to be seen from both directions, sending press releases to print, television and radio outlets, promoting public hearings on the county website and publicizing the email notification list for zoning.

The amendments do not go far enough, however, for some of the south county residents at the Feb. 24 public hearing.

All three speakers, of the roughly 25 people who attended the hearing, said they believe the county should advertise in local newspapers that are read by the community where rezoning is proposed.

Oakville resident Robert Ellis said he liked the county’s suggested changes, but believed the panel should require the county to go further and require advertisements for zoning be published in newspapers, noting that even though he subscribes to the county’s email alerts on zoning, he missed the notice for the public hearing on the panel’s notification changes and saw it in the newspaper instead.

Currently, the county publishes its zoning notices in a legal trade publication, the Countian, as do cities like Crestwood.

The Countian is primarily subscribed to by lawyers and has a countywide circulation of 5,000. Publishing zoning notices in newspapers above circulation of 10,000 people is one of the proposals in state legislation introduced by Oakville’s state representatives, Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, and Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville.

“I would not have known about this meeting tonight had it not been for this newspaper (the Call),” Ellis said. “When you make that proposal, if you could notify the municipality newspaper, I think it’s more important for the residents of those areas than just the TV stations.”

Alan Leaderbrand, Lemay Township Republican committeeman, said that he also agrees the changes make sense, but they do not go far enough or address some of the problems with notification for the National Church Residences complex.

In that case, the property to be rezoned was zoned single-family residential and still had a small house on it. The rezoning sign was placed back from the street, so although the neighboring school and shopping center see plenty of traffic, opponents of the complex said the sign was too far away to read.

The zoning sign was also far back on private property along a road with no sidewalks, Leaderbrand said, which meant people might feel they were trespassing if they walked back onto the property to see what the sign said.

“That was one of the big issues — they saw something, but they couldn’t read it,” he said. “In this case, the sign somehow ended up by the house. You didn’t notice it because it blended in.”

“Logic says maybe you should just go to the website,” Planning Commission Chairman Wayne Hilzinger replied.

Many county residents do not have computers or access to the Internet, however, Leaderbrand said, adding that even if someone does receive a notification notice, it can still be difficult to determine what the notice means or what is going to be discussed, since no supporting documentation is included with the notices.

Citing the notification for the public hearing at which he was speaking, he said that it did not list what the proposed notification changes were or any other information for a person who did want to know — the person either had to call the county or show up at the hearing to find out what was going to be discussed.

Zoning notices on property should be large enough they can be read from the road, 100 feet away, and the county should pass an ordinance that if people walk onto private property to read a zoning sign, it is not trespassing, suggested Gene Hutchins of Affton.

The county should also take out quarter-page advertisements in local publications, he added.

“I do know what the people in my area read,” he said. “I’ve never gotten the Countian in my life. I know some lawyers who do, but it’s not practical for a citizen.”