Sunset Hills planning panel sets public hearings on tornado-affected area

Court Drive residents divided over future of neighborhood


Three public hearings involving the proposed redevelopment of Court Drive and West Watson Road west of South Lindbergh Boulevard will be conducted next month by the Sunset Hills Planning and Zoning Commission.

The public hearings for the potential redevelopment of the area devastated by the New Year’s Eve tornado that swept through the city will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2, at the Community Center, 3915 S. Lindbergh Blvd.

The public hearings will include:

• A recommendation by the Residential Recovery Task Force that was appointed in June by Mayor Bill Nolan. The task force has recommended the Planning and Zoning Commission vote to amend the city’s comprehensive plan to allow for both single-family residences and attached housing on Court Drive and West Watson Road — similar to the nearby Courtyards of Sunset Hills, which has both single-family homes and attached villas.

As proposed, the recommendation would require the creation of a new designation for the comprehensive master plan permitting both attached-unit residential or single-family residential.

• A request by the Court Drive Residents Task Force, chaired by Gerald Smith, to change the comprehensive plan. The Sansone Group and partner A.J. Borzillo Inc., working with the task force, are proposing some retail and senior housing for the area.

The Sansone Group has roughly a dozen or so properties in the area under contract.

• A proposal by Dr. George Despotis, of Des Peres, a trustee for properties at 12417 W. Watson Road and 3825 S. Lindbergh Blvd. Despotis did not offer any specifics of his proposal last week.

The roughly 10-acre site currently is zoned R-2 single-family residential with a 20,000-square-foot minimum lot size.

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.

At last week’s meeting, Doug Stone of Court Drive told the commission, “At the June 1st meeting, most of the citizens who spoke were residents who were not victims of the tornado. The consensus was that they did not want more commercial growth in the area and wanted it to remain a single-family residential community.”

Because of the proximity to Lindbergh, he said he didn’t believe anyone would purchase any of the lots in the neighborhood to build a residence. The recommendation of the mayor’s task force is not a good solution for the residents who remain, Stone added.

“… The New Year’s Eve tornado presented an opportune time for this to be changed to commercial development without financially hurting the current residents of the area. The city is currently losing tax moneys on these vacant properties and could instead increase the tax revenue by a change to commercial zoning. We the residents who have suffered most from this tornado urge you to consider this rezoning to commercial use for the benefit of the tornado victims (and) the future of the city as well …,” he said.

Jim Sansone, of the Sansone Group, told the panel, “… It wouldn’t be commercial all around. That’s not what the request is. Right now, the request is that the comprehensive plan — that we’re given the opportunity for a public hearing on Nov. 2. At that time, the specifics of the plan would be articulated. But as an example, the back portion we’re looking at as senior family housing and there are two parcels within the front — two outparcels that would be for a commercial use. They would be fronting on Lindbergh …”

Court Drive resident Diane Stolzer told the commission that she purchased what she “thought to be my dream home in March of 2010.” But since the tornado, “the neighborhood has become a roadside attraction. My mature trees and sense of seclusion was replaced by a Jimmy John’s, a Massage Envy, brake lights, Harleys — nothing against motorcycles — but that’s my life today living on Lindbergh.

“My dream home has actually become my nightmare …”

Gerald Kovach of Court Drive said, “… I was one of the five at the very beginning that didn’t object to it being commercial down on Lindbergh. But since then, these developers are pitting neighbor against neighbor, just like what we’re doing tonight. We’re fighting among ourselves. Before this tornado, we were all friends …”

He later said, “I don’t know why we’re even discussing commercial on Court Drive. That was settled on June the 1st. Why aren’t we discussing the (Residential Recovery) Task Force recommendation? … Unless you had been in that tornado, you have no idea what we’ve been through and what we’re still going through …”

Ann McMunn of Court Drive told the commission, “… My house was completely destroyed during the storm. I am the only house that I know of that’s rebuilt at this point. I’ve spent the last eight months of my life fighting my way back to Court Drive because I love it so much. I love the location. My goal from day one was to get my kids back home as quickly and as painlessly as I possibly could. We finally achieved that goal at the end of August.

“So to sit here and listen to this is obviously very heartbreaking for me. I obviously want to see it to stay residential, otherwise I would not have fought my way back to Court Drive to have my home and raise my kids there …”

She also expressed concerns about the comprehensive plan being changed.

“… If this goes to commercial, those of us that have fought to stay in our homes on Court Drive will be squeezed out … I’ve lost my home once, I don’t want to lose it again. So please take that into consideration. These are not buildings, these are homes. These are families’ homes …”