Sunset Hills aldermen vote 5-2 to OK final plan for new convenience store

Resident calls for Gau, Nolan to resign; attorney rebuts conflict-of-interest charge

By Mike Anthony

An ordinance approving a final development plan for the construction of a new convenience store with gas pumps at 1430 S. Kirkwood Road was approved last week by the Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen.

Aldermen voted 5-2 to adopt the ordinance. Ward 2 Alderman Thomas Musich and Ward 3 Alderman Jan Hoffmann were opposed. Ward 3 Alderman Stephen Webb was absent from the Feb. 26 meeting.

The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted 8-0 Feb. 6 to recommend approval of the final development plan for the Petro Mart convenience store with eight gas-pump islands.

Land West No. 7’s final development plan calls for a 4,080-square-foot convenience store on the 1.61-acre site of the former Bob Evans Restaurant on Kirkwood Road, also called South Lindbergh Boulevard.

George Stock of Stock & Associates Consulting Engineers Inc., who represented the developer, told aldermen, “… The plan, as presented, is the final development plan. It’s identical to the preliminary development plan that was previously filed and presented to the Board of Aldermen …”

Access to the site will remain the same as it is now, Stock told the board. Musich questioned Stock whether that access will be sufficient to prevent traffic congestion, noting the driveways at the Petro Mart site are much narrower than other convenience stores he visited.

Musich told Stock he measured the size of the driveways at a Petro Mart at Tesson Ferry and Butler Hill roads and six other convenience stores.

“None of them were less than 38 feet wide. That includes the Petro Mart down further on Butler Hill Road and (Interstate) 55. There’s another gas station on the other side of Interstate 55, and I went to a number of gas stations here in the Sunset community,” he said.

“All of them had driveways that were at least 38 feet wide. I will assume that that is to prevent congestion of traffic and to move flow into and out of the gas stations and convenience stores. Do you honestly think that you would be able to move traffic in an efficient way without any congestion, given the fact that the driveways at this proposed location measure 23 feet, 33 feet and 26 feet?”

Stock said, “The answer to the question is the driveways meet the standards of MoDOT (Missouri Department of Transportation) and the city of Sunset Hills for bidirectional traffic. We have run AutoTURN, which is a means of checking the driveways for both the transport truck and cars, and they do work efficiently for the site.

“You mentioned the six facilities. I’m sure there’s plenty others that don’t have that width driveways, as well. So the minimum width is 22 feet and then MoDOT allows up to 39 feet. I think what you see on many of these are there are curb cuts much wider, and those exceed the maximum width allowed under today’s standards and permitting. So the standards have changed on those driveways, but the widths that we show are sufficient to accommodate bidirectional (traffic) …”

In December, Mayor Bill Nolan cast the deciding votes to approve two measures related to the Petro Mart on the site that Land West purchased from First Bank.

In separate votes, the Board of Aldermen deadlocked 4-4 on approval of a preliminary development plan and a conditional-use permit for the convenience store with eight gas-pump islands.

Voting in favor of the two measures were Ward 1 Alder-man Richard Gau, Ward 3 Alderman Stephen Webb and Ward 4 Aldermen Pat Fribis and Art Havener. Opposed were Ward 1 Alderman Dee Baebler, Ward 2 Alderman Scott Haggerty, Musich and Hoffmann.

Land West No. 7 previously proposed a 4,500-square-foot Petro Mart convenience store with eight gas-pump islands on the site.

John King, an attorney who represents the developer, previously told aldermen the Petro Mart, which would operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, would generate $50,000 to $60,000 annually in sales-tax revenue for the city.

The developer withdrew a previous preliminary development plan that called for the installation of a raised median on South Lindbergh Boulevard from Interstate 44 south to Watson Road and a traffic signal at the intersection of Lindbergh at Sunset Office Drive and Monica Drive.

Several nearby business owners objected to the raised median, saying the median would limit access to their locations along Lindbergh, while the traffic signal would create congestion on the roadway.

In September, a petition signed by 174 Sunset Manor subdivision residents who oppose the Petro Mart was presented to the Board of Aldermen by Carol Morrison of Deane Court.

Morrison and former Ward 1 Alderman Frank Hardy, who is challenging Baebler in the April election, collected the signatures for the petition.

The development will negatively impact the Sunset Manor neighborhood by reducing property values, disrupting personal lifestyles, increasing traffic on residential streets and jeopardizing the safety of playing children and pedestrians, according to the petition.

In addition, those signing the petition object to the Petro Mart because it will operate seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

During a public hearing last week, Morrison addressed the board and called for Gau and Nolan to resign.

She alleged that Gau had a conflict of interest because his company, John Henry Foster, has done business with Western Oil Inc. Land West is a subsidiary of Western Oil.

Morrison said, “… In my opinion, the only reason this catastrophe called Petro Mart will be permitted to proceed (is) because First Bank made a bad business decision to buy a property for twice of what it is worth. Petro Mart is the only money bag with the money to drag First Bank out of its error, due to our board and mayor pushing through numerous setbacks, zoning changes, text amendments, conditional-use permits, lot consolidation and now maybe a preliminary development and final development plan …”

Referencing the petition, Morrison said, “So, Mr. Gau, you are not voting with your 174 constituents that petitioned for you not to do this — nor have you ever been back there and spoke with any of these people … Mr. Gau’s motives are now in question. I ask him not to vote and resign tonight.

“I am also asking the mayor to resign and having the knowledge of Mr. Gau’s deceit of doing business with Land West, knowing that the amount was illegal in our statutes …”

She concluded, “I’m just disgusted. I’m tired of coming up here and having to fight for our neighborhood because some of these people think we’re not good enough to be in this neighborhood. That’s all I got to say about this crap.”

During the consideration of the ordinance, Gau asked City Attorney Robert E. Jones to address “… the allegation, the false allegation, that was made against me when Mr. Hardy and (resident Kathy) Tripp recorded a conversation that I had without my knowledge …”

Jones said, “At the request of the Board of Aldermen, I did review those allegations and I determined that Alderman Gau did not have a substantial personal or private interest in a measure that was before the Board of Aldermen. And, therefore, he was not necessarily required to disclose his interest in an entity which is a vendor for one of the proponents of this particular measure.

“The cases that I read and the cases that I found indicated that you look for a direct conflict … You look for a relationship between the public official and the proponent of the measure, and Alderman Gau has no interest in Land West, Petro Mart, First Bank. So, for those reasons, he did not have a substantial personal or private interest in the measure before the board, and he did not need to disclose that particular interest unless it was clear that he did have such a substantial interest.

“It’s also clear that even if Alderman Gau had disclosed the relationship that he has as a vendor for one of these proponents, that he would not have been precluded from voting because it doesn’t rise to the level of conflict” as determined by state statutes or city ordinances, the city attorney said.