South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Trees a point of debate in Gates Manor proposal

Gates Manor subdivision would have 21 homes

The Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen considered a petition for a final development plan to construct Gates Manor at its Aug. 8 meeting, though there was one large point of contention: trees.

For background, the board approved an ordinance in December 2022 to rezone the property – located along Gates Manor Court just south of Denny Road and between Lindbergh Boulevard and Sappington Road – from an R-4 district to a PD-RV Planned Development – Residential/Villa district. At that same meeting in December, a Preliminary Development Plan was approved for that location.

Before the board’s Aug. 8 meeting, the Sterling Company – on behalf of Rolwes Development, LLC – submitted an application and associated plans for a final development plan to construct Gates Manor. There were no substantial changes from the preliminary development plan to the final development plan.

Twenty-one homes and four common areas that act as retention basins are planned for this new development. The site, however, is currently platted to accommodate just 11 homes, so the development team plans to demolish any existing homes and re-plat the property to create the 21 lots.

This is where the tree issue comes into play. The tree management board, per city code, is requiring that the development team preserve 30% of the existing canopy coverage. If these requirements cannot be met by the developer, the city code allows for the development team to install “replacement trees” at a specific amount defined by code. In this case, the development team is required to provide 21,708-square-feet of trees – instead, they are proposing 25,200-square-feet of additional trees to meet the replacement tree requirement for not preserving 30% existing canopy coverage. Additionally, the development is required to have a 20-foot landscape buffer along Denny Road, which is proposed on the landscape plan.

“We went before your tree board on July 26, because a lot of the existing trees are being removed and replaced with additional trees,” Drew Weber of Hamilton Weber law firm, on behalf of Rolwes Development, said. “We received approval from the tree board, but with a couple requests. One was to preserve as many existing trees as we can. In some areas we can’t do that because a tree is where a house is going to be, but to the extent we can, we will, and that’ll be addressed with the improvement plan. The other (request) was to switch out some other kinds of trees for hickories or elms.”

When it was time for questions, Ward 2 Alderman Casey Wong asked Weber if there was “any problem with incorporating the recommendations from the tree board into this as a condition.” Weber responded that it was “no problem” as they “would do it anyways,” but Wong did not seem convinced.

“They presented a plan that shows them clear-cutting everything,” Wong said to the rest of the board. “Now we’re just going to say ‘we’ll take your word for it?’”

Bryson E. Baker, city engineer and director of public works, responded by saying, “Well, the plan was approved. The plan was approved by the tree board, and they had recommendations, not requirements. So those recommendations are up to Rolwes if they would like to implement them, and they’re saying that they do plan on implementing. They’re saying that they are going to try to preserve what they can, they are going to upgrade the trees from the ginkgoes to the oaks. You’re asking, ‘can you put that in?’ – I think they agreed.”

The conversation did not end there, however. A bill approving a final development plan for the Gates Manor subdivision was read for the first time during new business, and a second reading was requested by the petitioner. There was a motion made to suspend the rules, and after a roll call vote it was found that everyone was in favor of a second reading besides Wong. He then made a motion to “amend the conditions that the park board recommendations are attached as conditions to the final development plan as an amendment to this ordinance.”

This led to significant discussion on requirements versus recommendations, though there was ultimately no vote on Wong’s proposed motion. Wong later questioned if there could be a new landscape plan, which was met with opposition from other aldermen who “want to move on.”

Before the second reading took place, Ward 3 Alderman Cathy Friedmann asked if she could change her vote on approving the second reading. If her vote changed, the bill would have to be read for a second time at the board’s next meeting, dragging out the process for all involved. This did not go over well.

“For those of you who have not driven down (to the proposed site) during the last year, we’re now talking about a public safety issue. Not going forward for another month – I just want to make that point – is a public safety issue. There’s no doubt in my mind,” Ward 4 Alderman Fred Daues said.

“Because it doesn’t satisfy one alderman’s language requirements, we’re gonna pull the plug on this for another month and push the whole rest of the development back – does that make sense?” Ward 3 Alderman Randy Epperson added. “We were all there. This just was gonna pass.”

Ward 2 Alderman Marie Davis – who lives near the proposed development – chimed in, saying, “That’s not a good idea if you live on Parkland. You see the uprooted trees, you see the broken sidewalks, you see the density of the divots in the road already. It needs to move forward, we have to get it done.”

After the conversation died down, Brittany Gillett, Sunset Hills city administrator, reminded the board that the motion for the second reading had already passed.

“In order to reverse that, we would need a motion to reconsider that vote,” Gillett said. “Then you all vote again, which would require a simple majority.”

At this, Friedmann took back her motion to change her vote and apologized for the confusion.

The bill was then finally read a second time. There was a motion and a second to approve, prompting another roll call vote. In the end, it passed and became an ordinance, with seven aldermen voting for, while one, Wong, voted against.