Stenger says he has no votes to rezone site of senior apartments

Residents keep up pressure on county to change zoning

By Gloria Lloyd

The zoning of National Church Residences’ Oakville senior apartment complex is back in the County Council’s hands, but 6th District County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, said he does not yet have any votes to rezone the site at 6050 Telegraph Road.

“At this point, none of the council members are coming forward and wanting to reverse it,” he told the Call. “They feel that giving the citizens of our district their voice was very important … But in summary fashion, from council members I’ve talked to, they are taking the recommendation of the (county Planning Commission) seriously and are not inclined to go against it.”

After no one initially spoke in opposition to the development, the planning panel voted to recommend R-8 residential rezoning for the site to the County Council, which approved it unanimously in May 2012.

“The council people are basically saying they thought it was a good zoning then and they think it’s a good zoning now, and they don’t wish to change it — particularly in light of the Planning Commission’s recommendation that it not be changed,” Stenger said.

Now that the planning panel’s recommendation has been filed with the council, Stenger said he has three months to try to obtain the votes to change the zoning.

In June, the County Council voted 5-1, with one abstention, to approve a resolution introduced by Stenger that directed the Planning Commission to conduct another public hearing with the intent to revert the zoning of the 1.44-acre site to its original R-2 single-family residential classification.

In August, the planning panel voted 6-1 to recommend that rezoning the site of the apartments be rejected. Commissioner Bill Sneed, of Oakville, cast the lone vote to change the project’s zoning.

Oakville residents contend they did not receive notification of the rezoning for the site, which led to no one showing up to oppose the apartment complex at a series of public hearings in 2012.

“Had I heard from anyone, one single person, through any of that process — even for one person, I would have paused it,” Stenger said. “And I do that routinely.”

At the Aug. 27 County Council meeting, Oakville residents kept up the pressure on county officials to change the zoning of the National Church Residences, or NCR, site.

Lemay Township Republican Committeewoman Theresa Douglas again raised doubts about the market study for the project. At the July 15 Planning Commission public hearing, Douglas had suggested that the errors in the market study could be grounds for nullifying the zoning and agreements with NCR.

“There were a lot of misstatements that were in the market study, and all of this came about as a result of what was in that market study,” she said. “Perhaps you can use that to avoid some legal liabilities.”

NCR attached its market study for the site to its application for $6.5 million in funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, and several speakers at public hearings have cited errors in the study.

The market study is a requirement of the HUD application process. It was not used by the county Department of Planning to make its decision about the site, said county Director of Planning Glenn Powers.

An approved HUD third-party analyst, ALCA Associates of Westerville, Ohio, conducted the study and issued a fact sheet in response to Oakville residents’ concerns.

ALCA is certified to do housing market studies through the National Council of Affordable Housing Market Analysts, NCR spokeswoman Karen Twinem said.

In his rebuttal, Allan Forsythe, president of ALCA Associates, said HUD reviewed and could have rejected the study, but did not. Forsythe, with 20 years of experience, wrote the study.

In the market study’s site profile of 6050 Telegraph Road, ALCA Associates wrote that the 1.44-acre site is 1.5 acres.

Forsythe based this off a sales flier and the brochure on the property, which both listed the site at 1.5 acres.

After NCR secured funding from HUD, it bought the former single-family property in December 2011 for more than $575,000 from Christine and Marcus Balch of Concord. Prudential Alliance Commercial real estate agents Jason Morgan and Mike Forth issued the real estate flier that stated the property was 1.5 acres. Their office is in Chesterfield.

The study notes the potential site’s location next to the Goddard School and near Oakville Middle School, but said it was bordered “on the east side (by) open vacant land to the school buildings.”

The property has been bordered on the east since 1959 by the Monastery of St. Clare. The cloistered nuns sent their external representative, Sister Mary Michael, to the Planning Commission to oppose the complex. The nuns’ concerns include lighting, privacy, fencing and noise.

Forsythe admitted his error in classifying the nuns’ property, but contends that the traffic on Telegraph Road will disrupt the nuns’ praying more than an apartment complex of “quiet, elderly women.”

That is the target population for the apartments as outlined in the study, Twinem noted.

Speakers at hearings have mentioned that Oakville has a low federal poverty rate compared to other areas in St. Louis County, which leads them to question why the developer chose to locate apartments designed for low-income tenants 62 years of age or older in Oakville, rather than in other locations in St. Louis County.

In his comments to the County Council last week, NCR Vice President Matt Rule said that the developer chose the site because it wants its residents to live in a safe and caring neighborhood.

“We believe that God has called us to reach out to the disenfranchised. It’s a great neighborhood, with great neighbors,” he said. “We don’t want to see our seniors squeezed out to hard-hit neighborhoods or to far-flung suburbs.”

The market study contradicts itself with at least one racial profile given that matches neither Oakville’s demographics nor those of county residents.

In the Demographics section of the study, Forsythe writes that the population of “the PMA (primary market area) and the county” is 82.7 percent white and 14.7 percent Hispanic or Latino. That does not match the racial demographics of either Oakville or St. Louis County for either 2000 or 2010 or the document’s own “Racial Profile” section, which states that “the population of the PMA is predominantly White Alone at 97.3 percent. The dominant minority is Asian Alone at 1.2 percent.”

The 2010 census figures for Oakville show a population that is 96 percent white, 1.8 percent Asian, 1.4 percent Hispanic or Latino and smaller percentages of other races. The figures for St. Louis County as a whole show a population that is 70.5 percent white, 23.6 percent black, 3.8 percent Asian and 2.7 percent Hispanic or Latino.