South county citizens voice concerns about traffic at proposed library site

Concerns about accessibility, traffic voiced by residents over proposed new library site

By Gloria Lloyd

St. Louis County Library officials are analyzing traffic around their proposed new library site to see if the location will work despite safety concerns raised by residents at a public hearing.

Library officials want to replace the Tesson Ferry Branch Library with a new library at the southeast corner of Gravois and Musick roads, across from Grant’s Farm.

At an Aug. 19 county Planning Commission public hearing and at the library Board of Trustees meeting earlier that day in Frontenac, south county residents told library officials they are unhappy with the new location and believe it is inaccessible for them due to its location on Musick Road, a heavily trafficked road they avoid for safety reasons.

“It appears the library has chosen this site based on new homes going in, not based on who they serve in south county,” resident Jason Kendall said at the hearing. “Ask anybody who’s ever traveled that road: You do anything and everything to avoid that road.”

Traffic engineer Chris Beard, who is under contract to buy a house in the planned Grant’s View subdivision that borders the site, cautioned the planning panel against recommending approval of any more development at the Musick and Gravois intersection without fixing the safety hazards already there.

At the time of its presentation and public hearing, the library had not yet conducted a traffic study of the site, which is owned by developer McBride Berra LLC.

Library officials are seeking to rezone the 4.29-acre site to an R-6A 4,500-square-foot Residence District from an MXD Mixed-Use Development District.

A library can be built under any zoning, but the new zoning would match McBride Berra’s requested zoning for a proposed adjoining subdivision, the Manors at Grant’s View.

A contractor is working on a traffic and environmental study now, said Library Communications Director Jennifer McBride.

“What we want the public to know is that we’re taking the concerns about traffic very seriously,” she told the Call. “Safety and convenience is of paramount importance, and it’s something we’re looking at very closely. In response to the concerns, we are working with a traffic engineer who is going to be doing a number of studies to see if we can make that location work.

“And I just want to reiterate, too, that nothing is final. We’re continuing to look at multiple sites for the Tesson Ferry Branch. Nothing is final until we complete the due diligence,” McBride added.

Although some speakers at the hearing questioned why the library would bring the site to the county for rezoning without a traffic study already in hand, McBride told the Call the decision to bring the site to zoning now was made based on “traffic, zoning, environmental and a host of other factors (that) are all taken under consideration during the inspection and due-diligence period.”

The plans as presented to the Department of Planning may not be final, either.

“We have only just begun meeting with the architects for the TF (Tesson Ferry) project,” McBride wrote in an Aug. 23 email. “At this time we have a very preliminary site plan, (and) nothing is set in stone. Final design will be contingent upon the outcomes of the various studies.”

The library has 40 employees, most part-time. The existing Tesson Ferry Branch Library in Green Park is the oldest and busiest library in the county system, built in 1958.

Voters approved a 6-cent tax-rate increase, Proposition L, to fund construction, renovation and upgrades to library facilities last fall. With the approval of the measure, the library’s tax rate increased to 22.3 cents per $100 of assessed valuation from 16.3 cents.

The library’s facilities master plan recommends the 55-year-old existing Tesson Ferry Library be replaced with a new building “on a new site.” The plan estimates the cost of a new building at $20 million, including land.

The new Tesson Ferry Branch will have the same number of books, but will have double the space, with community and meeting spaces, laptop space, a teen center and a children’s area available for residents, interim Executive Director Kristen Sorth noted.

“A large portion of this branch will be dedicated to children,” she said.

The new library at Musick and Gravois will be the most walkable site of any of the county library’s branches, she added.

That contention did not sit well with neighbors who spoke at the hearing and said that the library will only be accessible by walking from the luxury homes of the adjoining Grant’s View subdivision, since the area is separated from other nearby homes by a busy road with no sidewalks, Musick, and a dangerous intersection at Musick and Gravois.

The library will be near Grant’s Trail, which will connect it with bikers and hikers and the entire Great Rivers Greenway network of trails, McBride said.

The Oak Bend branch library is near a trail and sees a lot of bicycle and foot traffic among patrons, she added.

The Lindbergh Schools Board of Education has discussed building a sixth elementary school on the roughly 10-acre site of the Dressel School building along Musick, noted resident Christy McArthy, which will also increase traffic in the area over the next few years.

Making a bad situation worse by adding the library is a terrible idea, she added, asking what other sites had been considered by library officials.

Library officials looked at 25 sites across south county, Sorth said, and the best site they found for the library system’s new branch is at Gravois and Musick.

The library looked for sites along Lindbergh Blvd. near the current library’s Lin Ferry location, but many of those sites need environmental remediation, Sorth added.

“What is the rationale of having three libraries in close proximity, when there is a whole part of south county which does not have as good of access?” Planning Commission member and Oakville resident Bill Sneed asked Sorth.

Sorth said library officials wanted to find a site as close as possible to the current site and settled on the McBride Berra-owned site two miles away.