Sunset Hills retroactively approves parking lot

By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

The Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen approved an amended development plan last month for Friendship Village to make changes to an amended development plan first approved by the board in 2017. 

The board approved the amended development plan by 5-2, with Ward 1 Aldermen Ann McMunn and Joe Stewart, Ward 4 Aldermen Thompson Price and Mark Colombo and Ward 2 Alderman Steve Bersche voting in favor of the proposal, while Ward 2 Alderman Casey Wong and Ward 3 Alderman Cathy Friedmann were opposed. 

The amended development plan proposed by Friendship Village this time actually alters an existing amended development plan which had been brought before the board in 2017 to change a final development plan passed by the Board of Aldermen in 2012. 

The most recent amended development plan consists of shifting and changing the configuration of the parking lot of the northwest corner of the property at 12563 Village Circle Drive. 

The approval by the aldermen is somewhat retrospective. The city had been made aware that there was construction work at Friendship Village that was not in line with the approved amended development plan from 2017, said City Engineer Bryson Baker at a public hearing on the plan last December. 

“When we contacted Friendship Village and the contractor, they thought they had gone through the proper procedures for it but … it was found that they had not had this change approved,” Baker said. “It was a change from the original plans. So it has been constructed and it is currently in place and is now before the board asking for permission to keep that extra parking lot in place with that amended development plan.” 

The approved amended development plan from 2017 had a 44-stall parking lot on the western edge of the property, however the parking lot that was built ended up with 40 spaces and a new drive lane, adding an additional 6,000 feet of pavement. 

The parking lot still meets the required complaint parking space and open spaces, Mike Vorwerk with Civil Engineering Design Consultants told the boad. 

“It’s minor changes. I still think they get what they were expecting to get with this parking area. … It’s configured a little different but there’s no negatives to the city with this,” added Baker. 

Most of the conversation was dominated by an emergency gate on the property that was used by emergency vehicles and construction workers during construction. The Planning and Zoning Commission had recommended approval of the amended development plan but with the added condition that the gate, which opens onto Point Drive, be closed at all times. 

“It was also recommended by staff that the gate that is there … just west of this parking area” remain closed, said Baker. “It’s an emergency gate and the recommendation is that it be closed at all times. It is there for emergency reasons as required by the fire department and it was used during all the major construction going on at Friendship Village but at this time it should be closed at all times.” 

The gate is an undecorative, single arm gate that meets in the middle and Vorwerk said that they planned to keep the gate as is. It has been there since 2012 and was required by the Fenton Fire Department as an additional point of emergency access. It was used during construction but is no longer being used for the reason. 

The lock on the gate is shared with the Fenton fire department and if the department needs to get access to the Friendship Village but can’t because the main entrance is blocked, they can utilize the emergency entrance. 

“Can we request that they put a decorative gate there if they’re going to have it there so it just looks a little bit better for the people who are living down the street or driving by,” said Colombo. 

“We can certainly mention that to Friendship Village but I can spend their money without their approval,” said Vorwerk. 

A letter from the Sunset Pointe subdivision Board of Trustees questioned if Friendship Village had obtained all the proper permits from the Metropolitan Sewer District, citing mud and water run-off into the subdivision ever since the parking lot expansion started. 

“Anytime it rained, we had mud run-off coming down into our neighborhood. … We had mud in front of people’s driveways anytime you had heavy rain,” said Trustee Bill Holland. “We’ve lived with mud and dirt and junk on that street for three years and all we want to do is make sure that when we go forward on this, that the water is going to be retained in their retention pond … as well as making sure … that that entrance is for emergency use only and it is not going to be an in and out for employees.” 

Holland added that since construction had completed, there was no longer issues with the water and mud run-off but that the trustees wanted to make sure that would remain the case in the future. 

At a second reading of the bill last month, discussion once again centered around the installation of a decorative gate in place of the one that had been there since 2012. 

“Did we ever get any resolution on a decorative or ornamental gate at this location? Did they report back that they were willing to do that,” questioned Colombo. 

“Our discussion was we would prefer to have it approved with the gate closed as it currently is. The thought of adding a new gate – there’s no existing fence for it to connect to,” said Vorwerk. “The thought of making an ornamental gate in the middle of nowhere doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. Nor is the gate really a component connected with the parking lot – the amended area.” 

Friedmann said that she had driven past the gate and that while it wasn’t ornamental, she “didn’t find it objectionable” and it was closed. 

“I would approve the amended development plan with the locked gate and no require the ornamental,” said Friedmann. 

Jones said that after the first reading of the bill in December, he had amended the bill to include the language referring to installing a decorative gate in place of the current one. 

The bill was passed 5-2, with Wong and Friedmann opposed.