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’ Court Drive area eyed for ‘high-end commercial development’

First of two parts: Roughly 35 attend meeting to oppose commercial plan
Dee Baebler
Dee Baebler

First of two parts

The majority of Sunset Hills residents who spoke about whether the city’s tornado-damaged area should be redeveloped commercially opposed that idea when it was last brought up, but a real-estate developer is eyeing the site for “a high-end commercial development.”

The 2010 New Year’s Eve tornado destroyed roughly 10 homes in Sunset Hills, hitting the Court Drive area the hardest, and damaged more than 100 other buildings in the city.

In 2011, the Planning and Zoning Commission rejected designating the Court Drive area commercial, accepting the recommendation of a task force that the area remain residential.

But in a letter sent last week to Court Drive residents, commercial developer Pace Properties implied that city officials believe commercial is the best option for the tornado-damaged sites.

“In working with the city staff, city political leaders, city consultants and the Court Drive residents, the consensus is that a high-end commercial development, which would include a specialty grocery store, would be the best and most appropriate use of the vacant land,” wrote Pace Properties Senior Vice President Richard Randall Jr.

The properties are in Ward 1, and Ward 1 Alderman Dee Baebler called a meeting Sunday with the Friends of Court Drive, a group that opposes commercial construction in the neighborhood. Baebler told the roughly 35 residents gathered at Watson Trail Park that she first learned of the commercial proposal through emails sent last week between city officials and Randall.

The letter from Pace did not specify which officials are in support of commercialization, but in reply to a question from Baebler last week, Mayor Mark Furrer wrote in an email that he is already in talks with the developer and supports the proposal.

Furrer said he agrees with planners from Houseal Lavigne of Chicago, which is developing the city’s new comprehensive plan, that the best use for the tornado-damaged properties is commercial. The property is currently zoned R-2 residential and the city’s current comprehensive plan calls only for residential uses at the site.

“As you are aware, our out-of-town experts wisely concluded this area should indeed be retail,” Furrer wrote Baebler. “The glitch, however, is that two of the parcels have homes planned. This would severely and negatively affect our planned grocery-anchored center.”

Commercial developers, including the Sansone Group, told residents during the 2011 debate that no developer could build houses on the sites. But Vincent Lindwedel, owner of Principle Realty Solutions, broke ground last week on the first of two upscale houses he plans for tornado-flattened properties and hopes to acquire more properties to develop residentially.

Baebler said Sunday the task force concluded the property should “remain residential forever,” and she will work with Friends of Court Drive to “stop this before it goes any further.”

One of the primary landowners in the area, Dr. George Despotis, has long tried to develop his sites commercially. He told the Call he is working with Pace on a commercial development that could bring a much-needed grocery store to the area, ideally paired with a bank, a pharmacy or office building.

Despotis said he would never consider a gas station for the site.

“It would be a win-win for everyone if it’s done properly,” he said. “That was my intent from Day One, is to do this right.”

Next week: More details about the proposal and neighbors’ opposition to it.

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