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Clayton residents express concern about future of Maryland School property

Schoolchildren brought signs to a meeting of the Clayton Board of Aldermen expressing concern that a former school could become high-density housing.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Beacon | 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - Clayton residents have launched a “pre-emptive strike” on any effort to transform the grounds of a former public school into high-density housing.

Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Beacon Schoolchildren brought signs to a meeting of the Clayton Board of Aldermen expressing concern that a former school could become high-density housing.

But a spokesman for the Clayton School District says that the district hasn’t signed any contract and is sorting through offers on what to do with the property. And Clayton’s mayor – who also said he hasn’t seen any definitive plan – said any final decision won’t be made any time in the near future.

At issue is the Maryland School at Jackson and Maryland Avenue; it served as a public school from 1930 to 1980. For several decades, the facility was the location for the private Clayton Academy. Its grounds are often used for sports, including softball and soccer practices.

In mid-2009, the board decided to declare it surplus – a move that meant that Maryland School and a nearby administration building would eventually be put on the market. Steven Rosenblum, a Clayton resident and a senior director for development at Washington University, told the Beacon on Monday that neighbors around the school recently heard about a letter of intent to turn the land into high-density condos.

That, he said, would disrupt the nature of the neighborhood and go against the city’s desire to have more green space.

“That’s what got a lot of people concerned,” Rosenblum said. “Not just overbuilding or building. It’s building in an inappropriate area because there are plenty of spots one block over. There are plenty of spaces to build high-density housing.”

Clayton School District spokesman Chris Tennill said that while the district has received a few bids for the property, “we do not have a contract negotiated on the property yet.”

“Once we get to the point where we do have a negotiated contract with a potential buyer, we’d be happy to provide that information and we plan to let our community know what’s going on,” Tennill said. “But at this point, we’re still just very much in that process of sorting everything out.”

From a practical standpoint, he said, "you can't negotiate a real estate transaction in public."

“Quite honestly, I’d love to get into more detail, because there’s inaccurate information that’s sort of floating around out there,” he said. “At this point, we’ve kind of got to work through the process that we started when we put this property on the market back in November 2012.”

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Clayton Board of Aldermen, a number of Clayton residents told members of the board that they did not want the Maryland School property turned into high-density housing.

Some – such as Jeffrey Morrisey – said they feared that a high-density housing development could cause traffic and parking issues.

“It’s a great neighborhood. And we’d like it to stay a great neighborhood,” Morrisey said. “And we talk all about the technicalities and what we should build there and how we should build it. But we want to keep is the feel of the neighborhood. You can see families, kids – that’s the people that have always been in this area.”

Scott Partridge added he’s not opposed to development in Clayton or expanding its tax base. But he agreed with Rosenblum that there were other places to build such a development other than the Maryland School site.

“I think you can see from the level of interest from this community, they’re asking you in your role as our representatives… we’re asking you for more,” Partridge said. “What I’m asking for is more information.”

'Long, arduous process'

For his part, Clayton Mayor Harold Sanger told the crowd that the Board of Aldermen had received no concrete proposals on how to redevelop the property.

“We have nothing. We have seen nothing. We have absolutely no information written, verbal – nothing,” Sanger said. “So anything we’ve heard, we’ve taken as a rumor as well.”

Sanger went onto say that he and other members of the board have “engaged the Board of Education” and had informal conversations on what to do with the property.

“The reality is there’s really no response we can really give you because we haven’t seen a proposal,” Sanger said. “We don’t know whether it includes or doesn’t include a park. High-rise, low-rise – I mean, whatever it is it’s going to take a rezoning. It’s going to have to go through a rather arduous process, if that’s the question you’re asking.”

That process, he said, will entail multiple public hearings, many meetings with planning and zoning, a review from city staff and eventually review by the Board of Aldermen. “I cannot possibly give you a timeline on it,” he added.

He added, though, that any proposal will be “fully vetted.”

“We will take everything into consideration,” Sanger said. “We realize there are two edges to the blade. I can assure you we will be transparent and fully open in terms of conversation.”

Whatever is done with the school’s property, Rosenblum said the city should “stick to its guns about expanding green space.”

“When they say they’re going to do something, they really should,” he said.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.