Rezoning OK’d at site of former MFPD firehouse

Commercial zoning for site a safety hazard, citizen says

By Gloria Lloyd

The Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen voted unanimously to approve rezoning a former firehouse at Lindbergh Boulevard and Sappington Barracks Road as a commercial property last week, despite objections from surrounding neighbors.

In a move that was contingent on the board’s rezoning decision, Sunset Hills resident Nick Kirkou plans to buy the former Mehlville Fire Protection District No. 3 Firehouse at 11625 Sappington Barracks Road, and move his courier service and document-shredding company from its current location in Crestwood.

His business has four employees who enter and exit at typical business hours. He keeps several trucks for the business parked in Earth City, but he will park one mobile document-shredding truck inside the former fire truck garage. That truck will only enter and exit onto Lindbergh Boulevard, Kirkou noted.

“I don’t feel what I’m doing is going to create any traffic or any issues,” Kirkou said at the April 23 public hearing. “I want to do what’s right and what’s best for the community.”

The property adjoins a residential neighborhood, whose neighbors submitted enough signatures opposing the rezoning to require a supermajority of the board to vote for the proposal. Neighbors speaking at the hearing objected not to Kirkou’s business specifically, but to the rezoning itself, which could allow for a different commercial business on the lot in the future.

At least two of the neighbors objecting to Kirkou’s plan also spoke at a public hearing last year opposing the Gateway House of Prayer, which is across the street from the former firehouse and wanted to use it as a rectory. The church bought the property from the Mehlville Fire Protection District for $200,000 last year, but voluntarily withdrew its rezoning application this year after strenuous neighbor objection.

“I think we’re looking at this very shortsightedly,” said Kimberly Bordeaux, who lives across the street. “I can see it becoming a small day care, a pet-sitting operation, a barbershop. It’s a huge safety hazard for you guys to go ahead and give a C-1 permit to this.”

A former firehouse with limited parking is not a suitable location for most businesses, Kirkou said, adding that any future owner would most likely tear down the building and rebuild. That plan, in turn, would require approval from the Board of Aldermen, City Attorney Robert Jones Jr. said.

“No (commercial business) is dying to be in that building,” Kirkou said.

Kirkou said that his employees will arrive for work through one of the entrances on Lindbergh Boulevard, but they have to exit through Sappington Barracks Road because their cars will bottom out on the 13-percent slope back up to the Lindbergh exit. Cars do not bottom out when entering the property, only when leaving, he noted.

Ward 3 Alderman Jan Hoffman said she did not believe the proposal would increase traffic in the nearby neighborhood.

When Ward 4 Alderman Art Havener asked about the type of traffic that used to come from the fire district, 45-year Sappington Road resident Richard Cutak said that was a different type of traffic.

“It wasn’t a commercial venture,” he said. “That (exit) was there for (the fire district’s) convenience.”

Some residents of the neighborhood currently use the parking lot of the property to cut through from Lindbergh to their residential street, with drivers even stopping to move traffic cones out of the way in order to take the shortcut.

The neighbors asked the board, if it did rezone the property, to permanently shut down the exits onto their road.

The board, however, followed the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recommendation that Kirkou close only one of the exits onto Sappington Barracks, the one used by residents to cut through from Lindbergh.

Kirkou will have to remove the concrete and plant grass, to the satisfaction of the city’s Public Works staff.