Sunset Hills task force close to finalizing recommendation

Task force discusses housing similar to nearby Courtyards.

By MIKE ANTHONY

Members of the Sunset Hills Residential Recovery Task Force could finalize a recommendation for the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission during the first week of August.

During a meeting last week, task force members peppered long-time developer Mike Kuehnle of Kuehnle Construction with questions about how to best accomplish the residential redevelopment of Court Drive and West Watson Road west of South Lindbergh Boulevard.

Mayor Bill Nolan established the task force after the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted June 1 to reject an amendment to change Sunset Hills’ comprehensive plan to provide for commercial and attached-unit residential uses of the area, which was devastated by the New Year’s Eve tornado that swept through the city.

The proposed amendment to the comprehensive plan 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 comprehensive 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.

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

Nolan has said no eminent domain or tax-increment financing will be involved in the redevelopment of the area while the task force has agreed that commercial development is off the table.

Since their first official meeting June 21, task force members have been discussing the concept of attached villas with some single-family detached homes for the site, similar to the nearby Courtyards of Sunset Hills.

Addressing the panel last week, Kuehnle said his company had built residences in the Courtyards of Sunset Hills during the final phase of the subdivision’s construction. The Courtyards of Sunset Hills has both attached villas and some single-family detached homes, he said, noting that increasing the density of the 10-acre site would increase the value of the individual properties.

Task force member William Bollinger asked, “So what you’re saying, in your opinion you feel that the Courtyards concept would be best for those 10 acres?”

Kuehnle replied, “Yes sir.”

Task force member Robert Mayer asked Kuehnle, “… Now if you were to use a concept like Courtyards and there’s somebody that’s in that area that just doesn’t want to give in, is it feasible to do something like the Courtyards and move around it so that you have — this guy over here doesn’t want to participate, this guy doesn’t want to participate, but the other people either want to participate or are willing to work with you, is that a feasible thing or would it have to be the entire thing or nothing?”

Kuehnle said, “… No, I don’t think so. I think it could work. There might be some key ones in there, like if you were going to change the street around. Obviously, then that might cause some problems … Like I said, there were singles in the Courtyards …

“In the Courtyards concept, they were pretty much — the buildings were all pretty much the same and I don’t know that that necessarily has to be … If there were some single families left in there, I think that could be worked around and I think the engineer could design and engineer around that,” he continued.

“… But if you’re talking about bringing in a street and closing off the Lindbergh street, then you’re putting quite a few more restrictions on there …,” Kuehnle added.

The developer earlier had said a big demand exists for housing in the Courtyards of Sunset Hills and similar developments, and task force member Nick Dragan asked Kuehnle to elaborate on that comment.

“… Have you watched the Courtyards?” Kuehnle asked. “I mean, those houses come up for sale and they’re gone. And they’re still paying a premium price for them, too.”

Chairman James Williams later noted a number of property owners had signed option contracts to sell their lots for commercial use.

“… Obviously, everybody’s aware that there’s already some option contracts in commercial and these people that don’t have a home — they lost their homes, obviously, from the tornado,” he said. “So the likelihood of them rebuilding right now is not going to happen. They’re thinking commercial. Obviously, the zoning is not commercial. So by putting together a Courtyards, theoretically we can increase the value of the property and I think if there’s some increase in value of the property, that is a happy medium — somewhere less than commercial but higher than what they’re thinking they’re going to get …

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 and smaller lot sizes.

As for the feasibility of such a residential development, Kuehnle said, “… It’s going to boil down to who wants what dollar amount and where they’re located because, again, there’s going to be some key pieces of property that you’re going to need to make the streets do whatever they’re going to have to do …”

Williams recommended the task force hear suggestions from other developers before attempting to finalize a recommendation.

The panel agreed to hear ideas from other developers at 4 p.m. Wednesday, July 27, at City Hall — after the Call went to press — before possibly finalizing a recommendation on Wednesday, Aug. 3.

If the task force agrees on a recommendation, it could be presented in September to the Planning and Zoning Commission, Williams said.

Vice Chairman Frank Pellegrini noted the type of housing being discussed by the task force included attached villa homes no more than two stories high and detached single-family homes.

“… That decision on whatever that mix is is a financial decision on the part of the developer,” he said. “I mean if he can’t put the density in there to justify the cost of the acquisition plus the building costs and sell them at a profit, it isn’t going to work. It’s that simple.”