Sunset Hills panel close to finalizing recommendation

Task force’s recommendation to be presented Sept. 7 to Planning and Zoning Commission.

By MIKE ANTHONY

Members of the Sunset Hills Residential Recovery Task Force are a step closer to finalizing a recommendation that will be presented to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission Wednesday, Sept. 7.

Task force members voted unanimously last week to recommend that the Planning and Zoning Commission amend the city’s comprehensive plan to allow for both single-family residences and attached housing on Court Drive and West Watson Road west of South Lindbergh Boulevard.

As proposed, two properties currently designated commercial under the comprehensive plan would retain that classification.

Those properties are 3825 S. Lindbergh Blvd., the site of the former SSM Imaging Center, which since has been demolished, and 12415 Court Drive.

At the end of their nearly two-hour meeting on Aug. 3, task force members agreed that a subcommittee comprised of Vice Chairman Frank Pellegrini and members Robert Mayer and William Bollinger would formulate the panel’s presentation for the Planning and Zoning Commission regarding the residential redevelopment of the area that was devastated by the New Year’s Eve tornado that swept through the city.

As proposed, task force members are recommending the Planning and Zoning Commission vote to amend the city’s comprehensive plan to allow both single-family residences and attached housing in the area — similar to the nearby Courtyards of Sunset Hills, which has both single-family homes and attached villas.

The comprehensive plan currently permits single-family residential in the area. A public hearing would have to be conducted before the Planning and Zoning Commission could consider voting to amend the comprehensive plan.

The subcommittee’s presentation was scheduled to be reviewed by the entire task force Wednesday — after the Call went to press.

The roughly 10-acre site currently is zoned R-2 single-family residential with a 20,000-square-foot minimum lot size. Task force members planned to draft specific boundaries of the proposed redevelopment area for the presentation to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Since their first official meeting June 21, task force members have been discussing the concept of a Courtyards-type redevelopment of the area. The panel has met with two developers — Mike Borzillo, president of general contractor A.J. Borzillo Inc., and Mike Kuehnle of Kuehnle Construction, whose company built residences in the Courtyards during the final phase of the subdivision’s construction.

Kuehnle said a similar concept “could work” for the tornado-damaged area. Like Kuehnle, Borzillo agreed the idea was “feasible.” He said he’d be willing to work with the city, property owners and even other developers on a residential redevelopment plan.

Borzillo did, however, express concern about building new homes next to ones that are decades old.

Kuehnle said for him or another developer to proceed, the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission would have to be convinced to increase the density of the area by changing the comprehensive plan to allow for attached villa homes.

Chairman James Williams said last week that task force members learned from Borzillo and Kuehnle that they “both were thinking in the same light, that they’re both acknowledging that there could be a combination of joint ventures, whomever they might be, and that some of the shared expense costs going forward to get the property to the state that it would be is realistic — that it could be a couple of developers that would be co-developing this piece of ground.

“So that’s clearly I think what this whole committee had heard and for you all that have been attending, you’re hearing the same thing …”

The task force discussed at length last week some of Pellegrini’s “initial thoughts on recommendations” that he included in a handout that was distributed to members.

Among some of the points agreed upon by task force members:

• No consideration will be given under any circumstances to the expansion of commercial development into the residential area.

• No eminent domain will be used nor shall any property owner forced to sell or be forced to participate in any proposed re-development.

• The market should dictate the purchase or selling price of any property and the sole responsibility for selling shall remain with the seller in private negotiations with any prospective developer.

But task force members debated at length whether they should recommend the Planning Zoning Commission amend the comprehensive plan or whether they should recommend the comprehensive plan be amended in the future if a proposal is submitted by a qualified developer.

At one point, Mayor Bill Nolan said, “… The issue is whether this task force is going to recommend that change in the comprehensive plan or whether they’re going to come back and say: This is something you ought to consider in the future changing …”

Mayer said, “I would think that we ought to go a step further as the committee to this extent: If we don’t get this changed to attached housing in that area, then it’s back to where it is now and that’s end of what we’re supposed to be doing. And I think that’s the point that needs to be made to Planning and Zoning. We’re recommending that this thing be — the plan — be changed to allow, if it can happen, attached housing and/or single-residency housing, and if you guys do not want to do that, then it’s our recommendation that it stay exactly as it is …”

But Pellegrini later said he didn’t believe the task force should recommend the Planning and Zoning Commission amend the comprehensive plan but rather recommend the city cooperate with any qualified developer who requests a change in the comprehensive plan to accommodate a Courtyards-type development.

However, Mayer contended a developer likely would not come forth with a redevelopment proposal unless the comprehensive plan was changed.

Mayer later said, “I guess my impression is if we dump this on Planning and Zoning the way we’re talking about this. Just say: This is what we think without coming in and saying we want a vote on it, we want to change it. I think when we walk out of there at that point and they walk out, it’s an over and dead issue at that point unless somebody on Planning and Zoning decides that they want to bring it up and consider it, and if they don’t, it won’t happen …”

After further discussion, the task force voted to recommend that the Planning and Zoning Commission amend the city’s comprehensive plan to allow for both single-family residences and attached housing.

Nolan established the task force after the Planning and Zoning Commission voted June 1 to reject an amendment to change the comprehensive plan to provide for commercial and attached-unit residential uses of the area. The proposed amendment to would have encompassed all property on Court Drive not already designated for commercial use, the first six properties along the north side of West Watson Road west of South Lindbergh Blvd. and 3851 and 3863 S. Lindbergh Blvd.

More than 20 people addressed the Planning and Zoning Commission during the June 1 public hearing with the vast majority of speakers opposed to changing the plan.

After a resolution to approve the amendment to the comprehensive plan failed for lack of a motion, the commission voted to deny the proposed changes to the plan.