Villages at Gravois Creek foes collect 1,265 signatures to delay subdivision plans

Resident says Councilman Odenwald proposed move to stall

By BURKE WASSON

How many people are against the County Council-approved Villages at Gravois Creek across from Grant’s Farm?

According to those who gathered signatures for a petition to delay work on the development, the answer is 1,265 — and counting.

Grantwood Village resident Ed Brimer reported last week to County Council Administrative Director Suzanne Pratl that 1,265 signatures were collected in support of a 40-day postponement of the effective date of an ordinance granting approval for construction of the subdivision along Gravois Road.

On May 23, the County Council approved two bills for zoning and a planned environment unit, or PEU, attached to that R-4 zoning at the Villages at Gravois Creek with a 5-2 vote. Opposed were 5th District County Council Chairman Kurt Odenwald, R-Shrewsbury, and 3rd District Councilman Skip Mange, R-Town and Country.

The site of the Villages at Gravois Creek sits in the county’s 6th District, which is represented by Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, who introduced both bills for the subdivision. Since then, Odenwald and Mange have contributed pledges to the group Grassroots at Gravois, a group of residents living near the development who oppose it in its current state.

Residents also have revealed that with the services of attorney Stephen Kling, they are planning a legal challenge of the PEU to decrease the number of homes in the development. A PEU includes floodplain property as common ground and therefore allows for a greater number of homes than an area’s density is designed to contain.

Brimer said that the recent petition, which was submitted June 1 to Pratl, actually was Odenwald’s idea.

“Kurt Odenwald actually suggested this to us,” Brimer said. “He, a couple months ago, let us know that there was this provision in the county charter to do this.”

The petition is essentially a way for concerned citizens to stall the developer, Gravois Co., from moving forward on the 424-home subdivision while Grassroots at Gravois members continue to accept pledges for legal fees and further develop a lawsuit.

“We figure this is simply a short-term stall,” Brimer said. “It’s something that’s available. It’s a tool available that the county provides that allows us time to mount our legal effort to have that working while there’s a delay. Technically, they (the developers) are not supposed to submit any site plans or site development plans or any permit application. Nothing can go into the planning department or the public works department until it’s an official ordinance. That’s where we have to be watchdogs because, you know, even though we get this passed, they (the developers) still may try to submit those anyway. So we’re going to keep an eye on that to be sure that doesn’t happen.”

Brimer said he went so far as to send an e-mail to county Department of Planning Director Glenn Powers informing him that the petition forms have been filed and that his department is prohibited from working on the project for a short time.

But County Counselor Patricia Redington said she is not certain if the petition forms are enforceable. This is because she is uncertain whether an ordinance granting a PEU — like the one at the Villages at Gravois Creek — can be challenged or delayed. Her reasoning is because the PEU involves property zoning, and zoning ordinances adopted by the County Council are effective immediately.

“Amendments to the zoning ordinance and then also the ordinances in case law suggest that administrative matters versus legislative matters can’t be referred,” Redington said. “So you kind of have to look at each petition as it comes in and see if it would be qualified.”

Brimer said he has heard this same rationale from Red-ington. But based upon advice from Kling and other legal avenues, he said he believes the PEU is challengeable in both court and for a petition to delay the development.

“When Kurt first suggested to do this, I talked to Suzanne (Pratl), and she got a hold of Pat Redington and they said: ‘Oh no, no, you can’t do it’ because it’s a zoning type of ordinance and zoning ordinances, it’s a little complicated, go into effect immediately so they’re not subject to this type of citizens initiative.

“Well, there’s two bills — (Bill) 112 and (Bill) 113. 112 is indeed an amendment to the zoning ordinance. But 113, right at the top, it just says preliminary approval for a PEU. It doesn’t say an amendment to the zoning ordinance. So we just thought we’ll do this for 113. We won’t bother with 112. So technically, it’s one of those things that’s never really been tested before in the county, so they don’t know how to deal with it. We’ve got a pretty good case that we think is right. Pat Redington kind of thinks maybe not, but she really doesn’t have a real good way to say that, and I think it may go before a judge more so than her if there is a challenge. But we are going ahead. We believe it works and we’re blazing ahead as if it’s legitimate. Everything you read in the county charter substantiates our position.”

The 1,265-signature petition also allows for the group to proceed with a referendum petition that would place the PEU issue before voters on the Nov. 7 ballot as a countywide issue. The group would have been eligible for this referendum petition even if it had gathered as few as 500 signatures.

But Brimer said that the required number of signatures needed to get the issue on the county ballot — 5 percent of all county residents who voted in the 2004 governor’s election — is likely too much to ask.

“The ballot referendum is a completely different effort, and we probably can’t do that,” Brimer said. “You have to get 5 percent of all the people that voted (in St. Louis County in the last gubernatorial election). That’s outrageous.”

Petitioners would have to gather a minimum of 27,077 signatures to place the PEU issue on the county ballot in November. According to voter calculations from that 2004 governor’s race provided by the county Board of Election Commissioners. The group would have to collect signatures equal to 5 percent of those people who voted in St. Louis County in the last governor’s race in each County Council district.

That would mean collecting:

• 3,231 signatures in the 1st District.

• 3,434 signatures in the 2nd District.

• 4,401 signatures in the 3rd District.

• 3,653 signatures in the 4th District.

• 4,236 signatures in the 5th District.

• 3,887 signatures in the 6th District.

• 4,235 signatures in the 7th District.

All signatures would have to come from registered voters in each district and not simply from district residents.

With the number of these required signatures stacking up to more than 27,000, Redington said even though she is not sure if a referendum petition can be brought forth to challenge a PEU, she doubts she will have to decide that.

“It’s tough to get that many signatures,” Redington said. “I’d wait and see until the petitions came in because I would want to look at it pretty carefully. I would want to do research and make sure I knew whether it’s referable or not. So unless we get that number of petitions, I don’t expect to be looking at it.”

Even if Redington does not look at the petitions because of a lack of signatures to bring the matter to a countywide vote, residents near the Villages at Gravois Creek said they are still pleased to have the 1,265 signatures they did gather in a span of a few days close to Memorial Day.

“We basically just started circulating the thing by e-mail to a few people, and it turned out that we had 31 people go out and collect petitions,” Brimer said. “That was a good turnout because we didn’t think we had that many people who wanted to get involved in that. It was a pretty wide range. And we were excited because this time the people that were collecting the signatures were from a broader area than just Musick Road and Grantwood Village.”

Brimer said that petitioners collecting signatures included not only people from near the border of the 5th and 6th districts, but also people from Sunset Hills, east Affton and numerous subdivisions bordering all sides of Grant’s Farm.

“I think what we’re noticing now is that the anger and the disagreeing with all this is going beyond just the immediate vicinity,” Brimer said. “The result of this has just been a fabulous outpouring of community interest again. I think it was a great, energizing process. We’ve got more people fired up. Enthusiasm just keeps building. And we can’t go to Clayton (for a County Council meeting) every Tuesday any longer, so we want to keep this critical mass brewing, and I think this was a great effort to do that.”