Zoning issue tests Oakville residents’ faith in government

Residents no longer the boss of county, teacher tells council

By Gloria Lloyd

With the effort to change the zoning of a senior apartment complex in Oakville failing to gain traction with the County Council, residents say they have lost faith in the county government that represents their unincorporated area.

After the Aug. 5 decision by the county Planning Commission to reject rezoning the site at 6050 Telegraph Road, the issue is back on the agenda of the County Council, with 6th District County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, trying to get enough votes to override a threatened veto by County Executive Charlie Dooley.

So far, Stenger does not have a single other vote from his fellow council members to overturn the zoning.

Opposition to the project has crossed party lines among the area’s state legislators. Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville, and Sen. Scott Sifton appeared before the County Council Sept. 3 to again oppose the complex.

He also spoke against the project at the July 15 Planning Commission public hearing, saying at the time that the building was too large for its small lot, comparing it to “15 pounds of potatoes in a 10-pound bag.”

“I think I speak for the majority of my constituents in saying that we are disappointed in what the zoning commission decided, and we’d like to see that changed,” Sifton last week. “I think it’s pretty clear where the people of Oakville stand, and I just wanted to let you know that I stand with them.”

One of the recurring themes of Oakville citizens appearing before the County Council is that they believe their government, led by the County Council and County Executive Charlie Dooley, has let them down.

Oakville resident Al Faenger returned again to the issue of the notification process to residents, saying that they had no way of knowing about the project because of how the county Department of Planning initially carried out that process.

“The required sign was placed in a location that no one could read. The postcards were mailed, but no one got them — and the required notification was placed in a paper that we don’t get,” he said. “If planning really wanted us to know, they would have placed it in the Oakville Call, which we all get. Somehow our not finding out about this project in March of 2012 is our fault, and we should just go away … When is the lack of due process OK?”

Lindbergh Schools social studies teacher and Oakville resident Mary McCartney told the County Council Aug. 27 that she has long taught her seventh-grade students about the power they hold as citizens of a democratic government.

“In the United States, the people of a democracy are the boss,” she told the council. “Quite frankly, I don’t want to change that lesson plan. But from the behavior of St. Louis County, it looks like we have been removed. We’re not the boss of St. Louis County … Please remember who the boss is in a democracy.”

Oakville resident Joyce Connolly told the council Aug. 27 that she talked to representatives of neighboring businesses, who said they oppose the complex but do not want to get on the wrong side of the county government, which they depend on for licensing, by publicly opposing the project.

At the same meeting, Oakville resident and attorney Mark Haefner said the council should look at what is in the best interests of the county, not employees of Ohio-based National Church Residences, or NCR, the project’s developer. He estimated that 99 percent of the 36,000 residents of Oakville are against the building.

“This is not (NCR’s) dollars that are being lost (in a potential lawsuit),” he said. “This is 100 percent funded by taxpayers. You need to listen to us, not people in Ohio, not people in St. Peters, but the people whose lives this will affect.”

The $5.1 million, 45-unit, 41,778-square-foot senior apartment complex is being built on a 1.44-acre lot, bordering the Monastery of St. Clare and the Goddard School, a preschool for children ages 6 weeks to 6 years. Although the construction of the building itself will cost $5.1 million, the $6.7 million grant NCR received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also covers the $500,000 land purchase, the architect and other costs associated with construction.

After no one initially spoke in opposition to the development, the Planning Commission voted to recommend R-8 residential rezoning for the site to the County Council, which approved it unanimously in May 2012.

In June, the County Council voted 5-1, with one abstention, to approve a resolution introduced by Stenger that directed the Planning Commission to conduct another public hearing with the intent to revert the zoning of the 1.44-acre site to its original R-2 single-family residential classification.

In August, the planning panel voted 6-1 to recommend the rezoning be rejected. Commissioner Bill Sneed, of Oakville, was the lone vote to change the project’s zoning. Sneed also was the only member of the commission who spoke during the vote, citing the lack of notification to residents as a reason to revert the zoning.

Commission Chairman Wayne Hilzinger and Commissioner Steve Lawler also live in Oakville.

NCR Vice President Matt Rule addressed the County Council on Aug. 27 and said that the developer chose the site because it wants its residents to live in a safe and caring neighborhood.

“We believe that God has called us to reach out to the disenfranchised. It’s a great neighborhood, with great neighbors,” he said. “We don’t want to see our seniors squeezed out to hard-hit neighborhoods or to far-flung suburbs.”