South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Sunset Hills board eyes measures to revitalize subdivision

Nearly two years after Sunset Hills aldermen approved measures that would have resulted in the razing of 254 homes in the Sunset Manor subdivision, current aldermen were scheduled this week to consider legislation easing construction ordinances in that neighborhood.

An ordinance was scheduled to be considered Tuesday night — after the Call went to press — that would allow homeowners to construct additions to their homes without approval from the city’s Board of Adjustments.

Aldermen also were set to vote on an ordinance that would reduce the minimum square-footage requirement of a newly constructed home in Sunset Manor from 7,500 square feet to 5,000 square feet.

Sunset Manor has been a source of controversy in the city since 2005 when the Board of Aldermen approved the Novus’ Development Co.’s request for $42 million in tax-increment-financing, or TIF, assistance and $20 million in transportation development district, or TDD, reimbursements to help fund a shopping center at Interstate 44, Watson Road and South Lindbergh Boulevard. The project called for razing 254 homes and several businesses.

But that project and the razing plans were killed after Novus President Jonathan Browne said his company’s lender had withdrawn funding for the shopping center.

With that controversial history of the subdivision behind the city, Mayor John Hunzeker said he and aldermen now can focus on improving Sunset Manor’s current condition and making it more resident-friendly for the future.

“I have always said with regards to that neighborhood, the best case for people is to be able to sell property at market value,” Hunzeker said. “And new people to buy at market value without any undue influence from developers or municipal government that would either add value to their price or devalue their property.”

Reducing the city’s square-footage requirement for houses from 7,500 square feet to 5,000 square feet will bring many homes that had not been in compliance with the previous 7,500-square-foot bench-mark up to city standards.

Hunzeker believes that once the zoning is changed to a modified R-6, “pretty darn near a hundred percent” of more than 250 homes in Sunset Manor then will be in compliance.

“Those lots and parcels and buildings haven’t changed in 50 years,” Hunzeker said. “And yet our zoning, the city zoning over there, basically, put a vast majority of those properties into non-compliance.”

As recently as September, more than 200 homes were found to be not in compliance with the city code that was expected to be modified this week.

That zoning change, including the change to allow property owners to more easily make additions to their homes, came at the request of the consulting firm Development Strategies, which was hired by the city in December to analyze a Sunset Man-or condition assessment that had been performed in the summer of 2006 by John Hoal of H3 Studios.

Ward 2 Alderman Thomas Hrastich also acted in the stead of city engineer and assisted with zoning suggestions for the subdivision before the city hired new City Engineer Anne Lamitola.

“Alderman Tom Hrastich was serving as our city engineer for a number of months while we searched for a new city engineer,” Hunzeker said. “And he became up close and personal with the subject of Sunset Manor. And we had also hired, after the report from H3 Studios, Development Strategies to give up some recommendations and thoughts on how best to utilize the H3 Studio report to facilitate recovery over in that area. And one of the things that Tom saw immediately was this zoning issue that has, as I indicated, the vast majority of those properties in noncompliant status. And so whenever a resident would want to do something to improve their property, they had a fairly high hurdle.”

Aldermen already took steps in June 2006 to improve the condition of 15 homes in Sunset Manor by agreeing to participate in a federal grant program. The board approved an ordinance for a Municipal Housing and Community Development Cooperation Agreement set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and administered by St. Louis County.

The grant funds will provide $5,000 each to five homes in 2007, five homes in 2008 and five homes in 2009. Only homeowners who earn less than $50,000 per year for a family of four qualify for the federal grant funds.

But with the new ordinance being considered this week, Hunzeker said all residents of Sunset Manor will be able to improve their homes with greater ease.

“It helps by reducing the setbacks on the side and the front so that if a resident would like to knock their house down and rebuild it, that’s going to be more easily accomplished without a lot of bureaucratic troubles,” Hunzeker said. “If they want to put an addition on the back, they can do that.”

Hunzeker said that even without the new ordinances, he has seen more stability in Sunset Manor this year and points to the fact that roughly 12 percent of the homes in the subdivision are for sale.

“What I found was that the number of properties for sale are either no greater or no less than other neighborhoods in Sunset Hills,” Hunzeker said. “That is the percentage of the property for sale relative to the total number of properties in the neighborhood.”

Additionally, the percentage of rental properties in Sunset Manor is down to an estimated 30 percent. H3 Studios’ condition assessment of the subdivision last summer reported that 47 percent of Sunset Manor homes were rental properties.

Hunzeker said the city’s steps toward improving the residential quality of the neighborhood has resulted in more rental agencies selling to owner occupants.

“What I’m understanding is that some of the investors are selling and selling to owner occupants, which is kind of like the unintended consequence of our actions,” Hunzeker said. “But certainly, one that was a goal. It’s going to do nothing but stabilize the neighborhood.”

Hoal’s condition assessment also found that 66 percent of properties in the subdivision are assessed in the $15,000 to $19,999 range and that 20.3 percent are in the $20,000 to $50,000 range.

As for the homes’ conditions, H3 Studios found that 55.5 percent of properties are in good condition, 43.8 percent of properties are in fair condition and only two homes are listed in poor condition.

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