Residents, Mehlville officials concerned about proposed subdivision

Residents seek to preserve historic Oakville farmhouse

By Gloria Lloyd

A proposal for a 30-acre subdivision next to Rogers Elementary School has some residents and county historians upset at the prospect of Oakville’s oldest historic home being demolished to make way for new houses.

The county Planning Commission could vote on the new subdivision at Fine and Telegraph roads as early as its next meeting, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 8, in the County Council Chambers at the Administration Building, 41 S. Central Ave., Clayton.

A decade ago, the planning panel recommended approval of the site, which is surrounded by vacant property and is directly adjacent to Rogers Elementary School, for a Planned Environmental Unit, or PEU, for 99 lots, but the development fell through.

New owner Pulte Homes of Atlanta, Ga., proposes a 57-home subdivision built over the next three years, with a minimum size of 0.18 acre or 8,000 square feet and a depth of 152 feet and width of 162 feet.

Pulte hopes to build two entrances to the new subdivision, one off Telegraph Road and one off Fine Road.

There will be no access cutting through the subdivision from the Telegraph Road entrance to the Fine Road entrance, which will cut down some of the traffic from the development flowing onto Fine Road.

That is the primary concern about the development from the Mehlville School District and Rogers Elementary Principal Patrick Keenoy, Mehlville Director of Communications and Public Relations John Wolff told the Call.

Traffic is already a problem before and after school around Rogers, since Fine Road is not built to handle the many parents who choose to pick up and drop off their children at the school, Wolff said.

“It’s not conducive to a lot of traffic,” Wolff said. “We’re always concerned about traffic on Fine because of the way that the road is built — it’s not straight, it’s hilly, and between the curves and the hills, the sight lines are not optimal. So obviously traffic is always a concern.”

As of the Aug. 18 public hearing at the county Planning Commission, however, Pulte had not yet conducted a traffic study for the subdivision.

Although some of the members of the local environmental group South County Clean Land, Air and Water, or CLAW, had raised initial objections to the idea of a new subdivision near Ameren’s coal-fired power plant on Fine Road, the Meramec Energy Center, no one opposed the Pulte project at the hearing on environmental grounds.

Instead, the primary opposition the subdivision faced was from people who want to preserve part of Oakville’s past.

An Oakville teacher and a county preservation expert pleaded on behalf of the historic house that sits on the property, the Fine-Eiler House, also called the Fassen-Eiler Farmhouse, which is the most historic older house in Oakville and was built by Benjamin Fine on property from a Spanish land grant when he married Sara Sappington in the early 1800s.

More than 40 years ago, the house was named as a countywide landmark by the St. Louis County Historic Buildings Commission, which serves as an advisory body to the Planning Commission, said commission member Esley Hamilton, preservation historian for the Department of Parks and Recreation.

“They have only designated a few hundred buildings in the county in all these years,” Hamilton said. “The criteria is that it should be significant to the whole county, not just the community. This property has been a concern of the commission for many, many years …

“We would like to see the subdivision designed in such a way that the house could remain standing.”

“I am not opposed to the development, but I am opposed to destroying a piece of history,” said Mary McCartney, a Lindbergh Schools history teacher and a lifelong resident of Oakville. “I’m here to say that sometimes pieces of history do not belong to the current owner. This home belongs to Oakville …

“Develop it, fine, but that home belongs to history, and particularly the history of the place that I love so much. I’m asking the builders to consider one lot for this piece of history.”

However, Matt Segal of Pulte Homes said that the developer did not even know the historic house was on the property until the Thursday before the Monday meeting, and engineering work for the subdivision is already complete.

Hamilton said the building commission was unaware of the project until the week before the hearing.

“I’m not saying that we’re against trying to preserve it, but I don’t have a proposed solution,” Segal said. “I can tell you the way the site’s engineered — you were asking about the rock (on the site) … our plan is to cut 30 feet off that site to make it usable, so I’m all for solutions, but when you’re cutting 30 feet off the site, where’s the house going to go? — being candid and being honest.”

In a nonbinding show of hands at the end of the hearing, seven people said they had concerns about the project.

In a separate hearing, McBride & Son, represented by attorney John King, requested zoning for a new subdivision of attached houses at 5419 Brittinger Road, at Tesson Ferry Road, in Tesson Gardens.

In a show of hands, eight people raised their hands in support — seven of them with McBride — and no one objected to the project.