Sunset Hills kicks off 10-month process for comprehensive plan

Officials looking for process to be completed by October

By Gloria Lloyd

It’s an idea more than a year in the making, but Sunset Hills is kicking off a projected 10-month comprehensive-plan process with a new website and a proposal to hear from residents and businesses on what they want for the city’s future.

On Monday, Chicago-based comprehensive-plan consultant Houseal Lavigne Associates will debut a new website dedicated to the city’s comprehensive plan, linked as a subpage from the city’s main website,

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The new city website, developed by a committee led by Ward 1 Alderman Dee Baebler, is also set to debut Monday, provided city officials are able to work out some kinks in transferring archived meeting documents to the new website, Baebler said.

With a tentative deadline to have a finalized comprehensive plan in hand by next October, Houseal Lavigne met with the aldermen and members of city boards who make up the city’s Comprehensive Plan Update Committee last week to finalize plans for the plan’s process for community comments. Mayor Mark Furrer did not attend the meeting.

A community meeting to ask for residents’ opinions on the city and the plan is tentatively scheduled for late January, and that same week, Houseal Lavigne will spend three days meeting with aldermen, city board members, city officials and other key stakeholders recommended by the committee.

The company will start immediately on a market analysis and mapping the city, driving “every square inch” of Sunset Hills, Houseal Lavigne’s Dan Gardner said.

As part of the comprehensive plan, city officials have requested three corridor studies, of Lindbergh Boulevard, Gravois Road and Watson Road. Altogether, the plan is slated to cost $90,000.

The Watson Road corridor study could be tied into both a citywide comprehensive plan Crestwood is planning and a plan for the former Crestwood Plaza mall site, city officials said. Applications for the simultaneous, separate Crestwood requests for proposals, or RFPs, for those plans closed Friday, and Houseal Lavigne submitted proposals for both planning projects.

Fenton is also looking into a comprehensive plan, which could also tie into the Watson Road corridor study.

To kick off Houseal ‘s work on the plan, committee members went around the room and gave their suggestions for what the city needs in a comprehensive plan.

One of the main problems facing the city is that there is no downtown where people can walk to or where community events can be held in a central location, committee members agreed.

“What’s the focal point of Sunset Hills?” Ward 1 Alderman Richard Gau asked.

“When we want to go to dinner with the family, and we also want to shop, we do it in Kirkwood. We don’t do it in Sunset Hills,” said Ward 3 Alderman Kurt Krueger, who also noted the city’s lack of walkability. “Everywhere we want to go in Sunset Hills, we drive — even if it’s in Sunset Hills.”

Gardner said the company will study where a location for a “downtown” area could be created in the city, and whether that can be incorporated into the plan.

Historically, the city has not developed a unique identity beyond the large estate properties it is known for, said Krueger, who is an architect.

“We’ve got this history and this past that lends itself toward large estate properties, and the trend today is not that,” he said. “And how do we bring in new blood? Or are the estates going to come back? Are people going to be attracted to that? I think the comprehensive plan needs to figure all of that out and create some kind of city center. In my opinion, the city has no identity, other than it’s a residential community with larger-than-typical residential estates.”

Board of Aldermen acting President Scott Haggerty, a real-estate agent, said that the city has no architectural consistency and guidelines that would show visitors they are in Sunset Hills instead of any other city, similar to the feel visitors have when visiting Kirkwood.

Another problem is how to balance residential and commercial development, without relying too much on either.

Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Nick Dragan, who also serves as chairman of the Comprehensive Plan Update Committee, noted that Lindbergh Schools should play a key role in the city’s comprehensive plan since it is such a center of the community and a driver for property values — and because it has growth problems from spiking enrollment.

“So from the standpoint of looking forward, we’ve got the reality that we’re going to need a new high school 10 years into the future, and that’s going to cost a big chunk of change,” he said. “How do we contain the amount of commercial space that we currently have, but maximize that value of the existing commercial space so that it dovetails with the interests of the Lindbergh School District as well?”

So far, development in the city has occurred by a developer coming up with an idea for a property and showing up to the city to ask for zoning, rather than the city suggesting what types of development should be where, Gau noted.

Ward 2 Alderman Tom Musich, who is not on the committee, attended and said that he hopes to see more “uniqueness” in Sunset Hills, possibly a retail development with boutiques. He also suggested connecting the city’s parks, including the dog park, to incorporate them more into the community.

“When you ask what we need, I think we need a plan,” he said. “For the past several years, I think Sunset Hills has been trying to put square pegs in round holes.”

The city has a current comprehensive plan that was developed by engineering firm Bucher, Willis & Ratliff in 1999, but the city has not followed it and its suggestions are outdated, officials said.

The 1999 plan covers city policies, trends, the environment, issues, goals and objectives, programs and implementation.

One of the reasons the Board of Aldermen selected Houseal Lavigne for the new plan is because the company specializes in proposals that cities can actually implement.

Sunset Hills City Engineer and Director of Public Works Bryson Baker held the same position for the city of Arnold when it commissioned a new master plan in 2011. The Missouri chapter of the American Planning Association named Arnold’s document the best new plan in the state in 2012.

Arnold’s $90,000 plan, prepared by Patti Banks Associates, covered a range of development-related issues, including design, historic preservation, topography and soil, city buildings, traffic planning, water and sewer needs, zoning and land use.