Sunset Hills residents set to rally for Court Drive as city responds to suit

Sunset Hills residents set to rally for Court Drive as city responds to suit

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

By Gloria Lloyd
Staff Reporter

Sunset Hills residents do not want the rest of the city to forget about Court Drive while the battle between the city and the property owner over the tornado-ravaged area is fought in court.

Opponents of the commercialization of Court Drive are holding a rally at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 27, at the Community Center, 3915 S. Lindbergh Blvd. The rally will finish up around 6 p.m., when the Board of Aldermen is slated to hold a work session across the parking lot at City Hall.

The idea for the event came from a conversation Ward 1 Alderman Dee Baebler had with fellow city officials.

“I was told by a couple of aldermen that nobody really cared about this anymore, and they were just very dismissive about it, and of course that upset me,” Baebler said.

She asked residents to email her what they thought about the South Lindbergh-facing frontage, which was a residential neighborhood before the New Year’s Eve 2010 tornado destroyed the houses closest to Lindbergh and left the street ripe for commercial development in the eyes of some homeowners and developers.

The response Baebler got convinced her that Court Drive is a citywide issue. Only three residents said they supported commercial at the site, while residents from all over the city said they were vehemently opposed to anything but residential.

“People are just very passionate about it, they want the city to defend that property like it is the last bit of property on Earth basically,” Baebler said.

The city first officially responded last month to a lawsuit filed in November by Des Peres physician George Despotis, who owns or has contracts on many of the Court Drive properties and wants to turn them commercial.

In his lawsuit, he claimed the Board of Aldermen’s repeated refusal to rezone the property is “arbitrary, capricious, unconstitutional and unreasonable” because, among other reasons, the Lindbergh-fronting property between Court Drive and Interstate 44 is all commercial.

But the city denied most of the allegations in the lawsuit, including that commercial zoning dominates residential zoning along South Lindbergh. The city also would not agree that the business corridor along Lindbergh produces “significant tax revenue” for the city.

Represented by both City Attorney Robert E. Jones and outside counsel D. Keith Henson of Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal, the city denied that the advent of commercial zoning caused more crime and noise in the city.

As for newer residents who may not know the full backstory, Baebler said the rally might educate them on the history of the site.

Then-Mayor Bill Nolan established the Residential Recovery Task Force in mid-2011 to study the residential development of Court Drive and West Watson Road. After a series of meetings, the task force voted unanimously to recommend the Planning and Zoning Commission vote to amend the city’s comprehensive master plan to allow for both single-family residences and attached housing on Court Drive and West Watson Road.

In November 2011, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to accept the task force’s recommendation, rejecting two proposals, including one by Despotis, that involved commercial uses for the area.

The city’s comprehensive plan that was proposed in 2015 and adopted in 2016 calls for the Court Drive area to remain residential.