Rezoning request for 0.7-acre tract generates sizable dispute in Oakville

By BURKE WASSON

A small tract of land in Oakville has generated a sizable dispute between a local jewelry store owner and residents near Susan Road.

Ray’s Jewelers owner Antonio Rotellini has petitioned the county Planning Commission to rezone his 0.7-acre lot on the northwest corner of Telegraph and Susan roads from residential to commercial.

His plan is to open a 6,200-square-foot retail building that would house his business and an additional three to four store spaces available for rent.

But neighboring residents spanning from Boardwalk Place Drive to Christopher Drive are concerned about the extra traffic that an already heavily traveled area might bring.

Both sides addressed the Planning Commission during an April 24 public hearing.

The Planning Commission has taken the matter under advisement and soon will decide whether to recommend the proposal. Those who attended the hearing split on the proposal 11-11 with an informal show of hands.

John King, an attorney representing Rotellini, said while he feels for the nearby residents’ concerns, he believes that because heavy traffic on Telegraph Road prevents the land from being part of a residential development, it simply makes sense for it to be zoned commercial.

“If anybody can tell me that you can use this piece of property for a single-family house or two single-family houses, I would like to have them show it to us as soon as possible,” King said. “That is not a piece of property that anybody is going to build a new house on. That piece of property has got a ton of traffic from Telegraph Road, and there is commercial across the street, there’s commercial up the street, there’s commercial everywhere.”

Neighboring residents, however, say they would prefer a residential use of the land instead of the small business setting that Rotellini would like.

“The proposed commercial site would be in my back yard,” said Boardwalk Place Drive resident Jeanne Conrad. “In 2003, Ray’s Jewelers bought the house on the corner and now wants to replace the home with retail. He wants to build a strip mall for his jewelry store and whoever else he can sell space to.”

Among residents’ main concerns are the extra lighting on the site that would shine onto Boardwalk Place Drive homes just north of the location, the extra traffic causing increased danger for Mehlville School District students being picked up and dropped off at Telegraph Road and Boardwalk Place Drive and the potential of extra runoff that the commercial site would bring.

King answered these concerns by saying that the Planning Commission could require Rotellini to place mounted three- to-four-foot-high lights on the site, “which would not shine on the properties next door.”

“That could be contained throughout this development,” King said. “It’s a little more expensive, but because of the homes to the north, that would keep the light from shining on their homes. There are no homes to the west of us, which some day I’m sure will be developed residential.”

He also said requirements from both the county and the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District would prevent any major runoff problems with the development.

“The other problems that (Conrad) talked about was with the school and traffic,” King said. “This is not going to open until 9 o’clock in the morning, so most of the school kids or all of the school kids will be gone by that time, and our traffic does not get involved with the a.m. or p.m. traffic at this location.”

Besides these concerns, residents also mentioned the Oakville Study, a 1988 zoning study of the area revised in 1998 by residents and accepted by the county Planning Commission.

Christopher Winds subdivision trustee and president Joe Redman pointed out that the Oakville Study was designed to protect the residential character of the area and asked that the Planning Commission not go back on their original recommendations in the study.

Redman cited a recommendation from the Oakville Study that states that new commercially zoned properties that might accompany commercial development should be limited to north of Erb Road. He said Ray’s Jewelers’ proposed site violates that provision because it is south of Erb Road.

Besides mentioning that the business would be the kind of duplication of retail space from which the Oakville Study protects residents, Redman pointed out the study’s restrictions on commercial properties less than one acre that border residential property in the area. Ray’s Jewelers’ proposed site is 0.7 acres.

“Now according to the St. Louis County Planning Com-mission in terms of one of the criteria for C-8 planning, a planned commercial district, it says a planned commercial district shall meet several criteria, one of which is it shall not be established on any tract of land less than one acre that has a common property line with any residential district and does not have a common property line with any commercial or industrial district,” Redman said. “This proposed piece of land is less than one acre. It is adjacent to residential and it’s not part of a bigger commercial district. So I don’t think it meets any of the criteria that’s outlined in the definition in the Planning Commission’s criteria.

“I think what we’re asking for is even though we’re talking about a jewelry store today, by changing the zoning, we could be talking about a fast-food restaurant. We could be talking about a day-care center. We could be talking about a liquor store 10 years from now. And I think what we’re asking for and I’m asking for is to take that into consideration. Again, I think it’s part of good planning, and we don’t want to have an adverse precedent.”

In response to residents’ concerns about Oakville Study violations, King called the entire study itself into question and said it is an outdated tool that has lately caused more harm than for which it was intended and an overall lack of progress.

“When you talk about the traffic, and that’s where I would like to take on the Oakville Study, which has been a big nemesis to me for many years,” King said. “In 1998, that’s eight years ago. That’s a long time. There’s been a lot of changes in St. Louis County in the last eight years. There’s a lot more people in St. Louis County. There’s a lot more traffic on Telegraph Road during that period of time.

“I don’t think the Planning Commission in the Oakville Study has the right to say that it has to be justified based on usage. Zoning is not justified on usage of the property. Because there are other uses in the area doesn’t mean you can turn it down. It may mean that you don’t like the use at this location, but you cannot use the fact that there are other of the same kind of uses in the area and turn it down.

“That’s not the basis you use to zone properties. This piece of property will never be used for single-family residential homes. It will never be because of the traffic and the noise created on Telegraph Road. This piece of property is an excellent use for a small, commercial user. You can condition this property in any way you see fit to protect the neighbors with a small, retail development in this location. I think you can go back at the number of cars that are on this street in 1998 and I think you’re going to find that traffic has increased tremendously since 1998. I think you’ll find that the noise has increased tremendously since 1998. My feeling is and my opinion is — for whatever that’s worth — this is an excellent piece of property for a small, retail user because of what’s in front of it on Telegraph Road and what the uses are surrounding it and across the street up and down Telegraph Road.”