Sunset Hills aldermen OK assisted-living facility on Rott Road

Residents in nearby condos voice their support for facility

By Mike Anthony

The Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen voted last week to approve the construction of a roughly $20 million assisted-living facility at 12422 Rott Road.

Aldermen voted 6-2 to adopt three ordinances approving Long Road Acquisitions’ request to construct The Grove in Sunset Hills, an 88-bed assisted-living facility that will include 22 memory-care beds. Ward 2 Alderman Tom Musich and Ward 4 Alderman Donna Ernst were opposed to the ordinances.

The board’s approval of the facility on May 13 came after 15 residents addressed aldermen about the facility, with 10 speaking in favor of it and five opposed.

The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of two of the ordinances — one for a lot split of a seven-acre tract at 12420-12480 Rott Road into two parcels and a second approving an amended development plan for the site.

However, the commission deadlocked 4-4 in March on the third ordinance, in which Long Road Acquisitions requested a text amendment to allow assisted-living facilities in the Planned Development-Lifestyle zoning district, or PD-LS. Commission members Nancy Goldkuhl and Bill Hopfinger were absent.

The approved text amendment now allows assisted-living facilities in PD-LS zoning districts with the same setback requirements as luxury multifamily apartments and condominiums — at least 50 feet from residential properties. It also states the maximum residential density for assisted-living units shall be determined by the site plan approved by the Board of Aldermen.

Long Road Acquisitions’ plans call for a roughly 69,400-square-foot building to be constructed adjacent to the Laumeier Place Condominiums on Rott Road. It will be a two-story building with three stories on the western part because of the grade level.

Plans originally called for four condo buildings to be constructed, but only two were built in 2005. The assisted-living facility will be built on two foundations that were laid for the two buildings not constructed.

During a period for public comment, Jim Wilson, president of the Laumeier Homeowners Association, told aldermen that 12 of 16 residents in the two condo buildings favor the assisted-living facility.

“… My fellow homeowners have asked me to speak on their behalf. I guess in a perfect world we would have had four buildings, and it’s not a perfect world. So we know something’s going to be built on the property,” he said. “We believe that the developers have done a fine job of putting forth a plan that we have discussed and cussed for a long time.

“Last night was our final meeting … We have 16 homeowners in our property. There were 12 at the meeting last night. We took a straw vote. Eleven voted for the proposal. There were four absent. Two were out of town and two later this morning signed the document in support of this project,” Wilson said.

He later added, “… We think it’s a good project. We know something’s going there and we think most of the objections that we’ve had have been answered, and we’re the ones closest to it. I mean it’s right next door to us …”

Another condo resident, Bill Walker, said, “… We think this development as proposed makes a lot of sense. It will protect long term our (property) values. We don’t think it will go down. It will go up, and there’s plenty of employee parking proposed …”

Speakers opposing the proposal voiced concerns about setbacks and density of the assisted-living facility, and contended the facility should be considered a commercial use.

Jim Hessburg of Maret Drive, a former Planning and Zoning Commission member, said, “… Good city government starts now. There’s no rush here. This thing hasn’t been vetted. I know there’s a lot of promises and I respect everybody’s opinion, but we really don’t know what the final build’s going to be here. We haven’t seen any plans, and I think this is a bad way to start. It’s a $20 million facility…

“It doesn’t hurt to postpone this until we have some of these plans …”

Also opposing the facility was Jim Keller of Maret Drive, an attorney.

“… I’ve been representing contractors, owners and doing construction law for 34 years. I’ve dedicated my entire professional life to it. It’s all I’ve wanted to do since I was 16. I do real estate for a living,” he said. “This is out of the playbook. I’ll keep it gentle: Developers go in and they divide neighborhoods. Our neighborhood is divided over this issue. Very clearly, you’re hearing two very polarized views …”

Keller also said, “… The density is just so out of whack — so out of whack. So they have to get a big, new amendment on density …”

At one point during the period for public comment, Mayor Mark Furrer said, “… What I’m hearing is people are for it because of what they’ve had to look at for 10 years … I would like to apologize to the residents in the condo and the people in Sunset Hills for allowing this eyesore to go unchecked for 10 years. I mean, this would not happen in Ladue. It would not happen in Chesterfield.

“So unfortunately because we let the developer get away with putting a foundation in, not maintaining it, leaving it unsafe — where I almost fell off when I viewed it the other day — it appears that your only alternative is an assisted-living unit or continued foundations, which they don’t even allow outside of St. Louis County. So I would like to apologize to the people from the city of Sunset Hills that this has never been rectified …”