Zoning is a hot topic for ‘Sunset Hills Neighbors’

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By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

By Erin Achenbach
Staff Reporter
eachenbach@callnewspapers.com

The widely debated issue of the Sunset Hills zoning code rewrite was at the forefront of most attendees’ minds at the first town hall held by the “Sunset Hills Neighbors” resident club Dec. 4 at the Sunset Hills Community Center.

The town hall, hosted by Ward 1 Alderman Dee Baebler and residents Gary Vincent, John Stephens and Cathy Friedmann, gave attendees the opportunity to discuss the zoning code rewrite and other city business.

Vincent is a former Crestwood alderman, but Stephens and Friedmann hope to become future city officials too. Stephens filed Dec. 17 to challenge Mayor Pat Fribis, and Friedmann filed to run for the Ward 3 aldermanic seat currently held by Kurt Krueger.

Over two dozen residents were in attendance, including Ward 1 Alderman Ann McMunn, Krueger and Ward 2 Aldermen Casey Wong and Steve Bersche.

“By way of introduction, essentially the city has been working on rewriting the zoning code for a couple of years now. And my understanding is it kind of started out as a commercial rewrite and then it kind of changed into a residential rewrite,” Stephens said to open the town hall discussion.

“That’s where Cathy and Gary got involved. I now don’t think there’s anybody who knows more about this code than Cathy and Gary at this point. It’s 138 pages and it takes a lot of time to figure out. I don’t think we would have the knowledge that we have without their efforts.”

Most of the debate around the zoning code rewrite is centered around changes to the city’s residential zoning. Consulting firm Houseal Lavigne, which is rewriting the code, initially proposed condensing the city’s six residential zoning districts to four.

The revamp and modernization of the zoning code has been an ongoing two-year project and had been discussed at numerous Sunset Hills Planning and Zoning Commission meetings. The commission eventually recommended the zoning code proposal, with the reduced residential districts, to the Board of Aldermen, which held a special meeting Nov. 12 to discuss the zoning code.

At that special meeting, aldermen unanimously voted to maintain the current six residential zoning districts and sent the code back to Houseal Lavigne to change its four proposed residential zoning districts back to six.

That vote means the code will once again have to go through the Planning and Zoning Commission and will not be finalized until sometime this year. Most residents concerned about the zoning code believe that the residential rewrite will make it easier for multifamily developments to develop in Sunset Hills, such as “cluster homes” or town homes.

“So the Board of Aldermen… understand that the residents were not happy about the (residential) districts getting sized down and they asked Houseal to go back and reinstate R-1 through R-6 at the same lot sizes they currently are. So that’s a good thing. There’s still a problem, and that problem is with section three… which is the use chart. What it is, is it has all of the districts…and what you can do in each district. So like in R-1, you can put a single-family detached home. You cannot put a single-family attached home, but you can put a single-family attached home in R-2, R-3 or R-4,” said Friedmann. “This (the use chart) is going to have to get redone because they’re going to have to add back the other residential districts. The big problem in my mind is you can put planned developments for… multifamily dwellings in all four districts. So in R-1, we could have a multifamily home.”

A multifamily home is a single building that accommodates more than one family, each living separately. These can range from duplexes to town homes to apartment buildings.

“You move to Sunset Hills because… ‘the community is unique within the St. Louis region, featuring mature tree growth, rolling wooded lots and architecturally distinctive homes that provide residential character arguably not present in newer tract home subdivisions,’” said Vincent, quoting the city’s comprehensive plan, which was also written by Houseal Lavigne and adopted in 2016. “It says nothing about apartment buildings or cluster homes in that description… That’s what makes Sunset Hills unique… I think if you move into Sunset Hills you understand they’re not going to build a 500-unit apartment complex.”

Bersche had suggested at the Nov. 12 special meeting that there might be some residents in Sunset Hills who would like to eventually move into an apartment building or other type of multifamily development once they get older, and he did not see the merit in outright banning them from the zoning code.

Medical marijuana was also slated to be discussed at the town hall, but Erin Kelley of Step Up St. Louis was unable to make it due to a prior commitment.

More information about the Sunset Hills Neighbors Resident Club can be found at the group’s closed Facebook group at www.facebook.com/groups/SunsetHillsNeighbors. The group plans to hold more town halls in the future.