UPDATED: County Council subcommittee sets hearing on proposed subdivision in Oakville

Developer seeking to build 41 homes on 13.4 acres near elementary school

Above, a view of the Basler Tree Farm property, as outlined in county zoning documents.

Above, a view of the Basler Tree Farm property, as outlined in county zoning documents.

By Gloria Lloyd

Oakville residents concerned about a proposal to convert Basler Nursery & Tree Farm into a new subdivision have formed an organization to oppose it due to the negative impact they believe it will have on their neighborhood.

The new citizens’ organization, Concerned Oakville Residents Engaged, or CORE, is asking residents to attend a public hearing the County Council will hold next week on the proposed subdivision. The Public Improvements Committee, a council subcommittee, has set the latest hearing for 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2, at the Administration Building, 41 S. Central Ave., Clayton.

In November, the county Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of Pinnacle Land Development’s plan to build Grey Oaks Estates, a 41-home subdivision on 13.4 acres, including the Basler Tree Farm property and an adjoining site that currently has older houses on it. As proposed, lots would range in size from 6,000 square feet to 14,000 square feet, and houses would be single-story, one-and-a-half-story or two-story and sell for roughly $350,000.

The Basler property, 2953 Yaeger Road, has operated as a tree farm since 1965 and as a nursery since 1985.

Two single-family houses are between the proposed subdivision and Oakville Elementary, but neighbors have pointed to the school as a key reason county officials should block the subdivision, citing traffic and safety concerns.

The area has no sidewalks for children to walk on, and Yaeger Road resident Madonna Hassler said she recently had to pull a child walking to school out of the road so the child would not be hit by a car.

“I yelled out, I screamed, ‘Stop!’ and they didn’t stop,” she said. “I don’t want any child or any human being killed on this road because of a development of houses.”

Many children walk to Oakville Elementary with their parents, but school officials make sure the two children who walk unescorted get across Yaeger and Milburn safely, Principal Chad Dickemper told the Call.

The 112-foot cell tower that the subdivision will have to be built around compounds the problems with the project, neighbors said at the public hearing.

“If my wife was here, she’d say no sane person was involved in the planning of this subdivision,” said neighbor Tom Lane.

Elsewhere in south county, Pinnacle recently developed The Enclave at Quail Creek, a 25-home luxury subdivision off Wells Road that home builder McBride & Son is marketing for $324,000 and up. The council approved it in 2013, and it opened in 2014.

In the Planning Commission’s report, county planners said they recommend the zoning change because the tree farm is surrounded by single-family houses. However, 6th District Councilman Kevin O’Leary, D-Oakville, kicked the project to the Public Improvements Committee, or PIC, in November.

After not meeting for years, the PIC has been active over the past year considering projects, including a gas station proposed for the former site of Johnny’s Market. After the PIC approved a modified proposal for the gas station that did not include a car wash, the developer dropped the plan.

O’Leary serves on the PIC, which is chaired by 5th District Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights. Other council members on the panel are 2nd District Councilman Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur, and 7th District Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin.

The PIC makes a recommendation to the council, which ultimately will approve or deny the subdivision. Residents who are unable to make the PIC hearing can speak to the council when it meets after the hearing at 6 p.m. in the County Council Chambers.

All the homeowners in the adjacent Lake View Park subdivision want the new subdivision rejected, Lake View Park trustee Jim Hamilton said. One of their objections is that Pinnacle’s new houses would set a precedent for smaller lot sizes in the area. Existing houses in his subdivision all have lots of 10,000 square feet or more and sell for $300,000 to $400,000.

“What it might do to surrounding home values creates an extreme concern,” Hamilton said.

In all, 250 neighbors have signed a petition against the Grey Oaks Estates proposal.

The primary concern Mehlville School District officials have about the project is how any new students who come from the subdivision would fit into Oakville Elementary, Superintendent Chris Gaines told the Call.

The landlocked school has at times struggled with finding space for students. When the new Oakville Elementary was built after 2000’s Proposition P, the district dropped two classrooms from the plan to save money. Adding two classrooms to the landlocked school was one of the last initiatives proposed in former Superintendent Eric Knost’s “Forward Motion” parting bond issue that the Board of Education declined to place on the ballot in 2014.

In some cases, the district does not receive enough property taxes off new houses to meet the cost of educating the children that come out of the new homes, Gaines noted.

“We like growth, but we just have to manage the impact of growth,” Gaines said. “And for Oakville Elementary in particular, it’s already kind of crowded, so it’ll put additional pressure on that building. But we like growth in general.”

Although some district residents believe Mehlville should buy the property to allow for future growth around Oakville Elementary, Gaines said that it is unlikely the district would buy the parcel because it is separated from the school by two houses.

During the seven years that Dickemper has been principal of Oakville Elementary, the school has peaked at 45 students higher than its current enrollment, so the school has some space to take in more students “in a thoughtful and strategic manner” if more children moved into the neighborhood.

“I am confident in our ability to serve any kids that walk through our doors,” Dickemper said. “The one thing I want to get across is that any student who is a resident of the Oakville Elementary attendance area will be welcomed in our school and we’ll do our best to serve all of our residents.”