Residents sue county, council over Gravois Road subdivision

Campisi says residents’ PEU lawsuit ‘doesn’t have a leg to stand on’

By BURKE WASSON

Citizens opposed to a 424-home, county-approved subdivision across from Grant’s Farm made good Friday on litigation threats by filing suit against St. Louis County and each member of the County Council.

The suit “The Town of Grantwood Village vs. St Louis County, Missouri” was filed Friday in circuit court, according to Grantwood Village resident Mike Jones.

Jones said the lawsuit essentially seeks a summary judgment from St. Louis County Circuit Court to declare a planned environment unit illegal at the development’s approved site.

The suit also seeks a permanent injunction to prevent the County Council from approving the PEU and also asks for any relief to the plaintiffs that the court would deem proper.

On May 23, the County Council approved two bills for zoning and a planned environment unit (PEU) attached to R-4 zoning at the Villages at Gravois Creek by a 5-2 vote. Fifth District Council Chairman Kurt Odenwald, R-Shrewsbury, and 3rd District Councilman Skip Mange, R-Town and Country, were the two no votes.

The site of the development sits in the county’s 6th District, which is represented by Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, who introduced both bills for the subdivision.

Since that time, the 94-acre subdivision’s name has been changed to the Villages at Grant’s Trail after originally being called the Villages at Gravois Creek.

Jones said he believes that through research done by residents who live near the approved development and the legal expertise of attorney Stephen Kling, opponents of the subdivision have found that its zoning is illegal because of the PEU. The PEU counts floodplain land as common ground and essentially allows for a greater number of homes in an area than for which the land’s density was designed.

“We feel that it’s accurate and it truly reflects our grievances,” Jones said. “But I hope you understand that beyond that, we’re kind of working with a semi-gag order on ourselves. It’s going to be difficult for us to comment beyond what you can read for yourself in that petition. But like I said, we feel that this petition’s accurate and very reflective of our grievances. You know, I’m guardedly optimistic that it will be successful in court.”

In the lawsuit, which was filed by the Town of Grantwood Village, Jones, Paul Fleischut, Bradley Schmitt, Christine Welge, Michael Cukyne and Marvin Wilds, the residents state that the the county’s governing PEU ordinance would only allow for a maximum of 363 homes at the site of the Villages at Grant’s Trail.

This calculation was reached based on Section 1003.187.5 (2) of that PEU ordinance, which residents point to when they state in the lawsuit that a PEU “shall not contain more units than would be permitted under the regulations of the residence district or districts within which the development lies. The maximum number of lots shall be calculated by dividing the net area of the development by the minimum lot area requirements for a residential unit of the residence district or districts in which the subdivision is located.”

Using that ordinance and Section 1003.101 of Flood Plain District Regulations of the Missouri, Mississippi and Meramec Rivers, residents say that 21.1 acres of land within the area’s 100-year flood plain elevation and 10.65 acres of land that is used for roadway right-of-way purposes should be subtracted from the site’s size of 94.4 acres.

That, in turn, would bring the Villages at Grant’s Trail’s net area of allowable development to 62.65 acres, which plaintiffs say would yield a maximum of 363 homes based on R-4 zoning’s minimum lot size of 7,500 square feet.

Campisi said he doubts the validity of those claims because he trusts the calculations of the county’s Planning Department and the advice of County Counselor Patricia Redington.

He further criticized the residents’ lawsuit against the county for its claims that the property’s developer, the Gravois Co., will sell four acres of land to the Cor Jesu Academy, an all-girls Catholic school, for non-PEU use. “We (the County Council) don’t know if Cor Jesu’s going to ask for a PEU to be built on that property,” Campisi said. “That’s inaccurate. They don’t know if Cor Jesu’s going to need a PEU to get their building up or do whatever they need to do on their property for whatever project they choose to build on it. What Cor Jesu’s going to use the property for is Cor Jesu’s business. The fact of the matter is that Cor Jesu needed property for them to expand on so they wouldn’t be landlocked. And the developer was kind enough to sell the property to Cor Jesu and keep them from being landlocked.”

Campisi said he was also irritated at the lawsuit’s claims that he made four “last-minute substitutions” for Bill 113, which granted the PEU. The lawsuit states that Campisi’s actions were “intended to deceive Plaintiffs and improperly avoid the restrictions of the Governing PEU Ordinance.”

“None of my changes had anything to do with the PEU,” Campisi said. “They’re saying that I was secretive. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I had many meetings with people in the area and one big one at Lindbergh (High School) to bring out all the issues. We had all of the council meetings that people came up with concerns. We had meetings with private subdivisions. That couldn’t be further from the truth to say that I tried to hide. And all of these what they call ‘last-minute substitutions’ were not last minute. Because each one of those substitutions, I always held another week before I went forward. So everybody always got a chance to take a look at any of the changes that were made and they had a chance to be familiar with everything that had been changed before we voted.”

Redington said she has not had the opportunity to view the residents’ complaints and is still unsure if the PEU is legally challengeable. She bases this on the fact that zoning issues in St. Louis County cannot be challenged in court.

But Jones said that because residents are challenging the PEU and not the specific R-4 zoning, he and residents are moving forward with the lawsuit in earnest and hope for quick action.

“We’re hoping for a declaratory action where they say you can’t debate the math,” Jones said. “It’s either black or it’s white. It’s not the kind of thing where you get up and try to do a lot of interpretation. So hopefully, this will be quick and it will be cheap for the community. And if it isn’t, we’ll just deal with it as it comes.”

Campisi, however, does not believe that the lawsuit has any merit and expects that it will face a stiff legal challenge from Redington.

“It looks more like they’re complaining about the county being able to use this rather than actually proving why they can’t use it,” Campisi said. “Anybody can take anyone to court nowadays. And in my opinion and my opinion only, this lawsuit doesn’t have a leg to stand on.”