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County Council declines to stop Oakville senior home - at least for now

This rendering shows what the National Church Residences facility in Oakville will look like after construction is complete.
National Church Residences

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: St. Louis County Councilman Steve Stenger told reporters that the votes were not there on the St. Louis County Council to reverse the zoning designation of a low-income senior residence in Oakville.

Barring a major shift on the council, Stenger’s comments could provide some legislative finality to the highly charged debate over the south St. Louis County facility.

Earlier this month, the St. Louis County Planning Commission voted 6-1to deny a rezoning request for the three-story facility, which is owned by Columbus, Ohio-based National Church Residences. Because of that decision, five members of the council needed to vote to reverse the commission.

When the commission’s report came before the council, Stenger, D-Affton, moved to "receive and file" the report. He told reporters afterward that hypothetically, he could ask for legislation to reverse the commission’s ruling within 90 days.

But as of Tuesday, he said, "there are not five votes on this council to pass legislation that would override the planning commission."

In fact, he said, there were no other votes on the council to reverse course.

"For the matter to move forward, it would require five votes,” Stenger said. "Those five votes as of right now are not available on the council. So until those five votes become available or unless they do, the matter will remain as it is right now. And it has 90 days from today’s date until it becomes a non-issue."

Oakville residents, who packed the commission’s July 15 public hearing, have mostly opposed the facility. Among those speaking at the July meeting was a nun from the Monastery of St. Clare, who read from a letter expressing concerns about “our privacy, lights, noises, a fence, trash, foot traffic and possible accidents.”

But Stenger told the Beacon earlier this month that getting four other members of the council to override the commission would be difficult. He said that “just in walking in the halls, I’ve heard other council members. And there’s some obvious concerns about overriding the decision of the planning commission.”

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley opposed reversing the facility’s zoning designation because it would leave the county vulnerable to litigation. Halting a project that had been approved could set a bad precedent for county development, he said.

Asked whether tonight marked an end to the situation, Dooley said, “They can bring it back up at any time if they so choose. But right now, it’s received and filed. And it’s under advisement.”

Stenger said Oakville residents “had expressed to me on numerous occasions that they felt they did not receive an adequate voice in this process.” He said litigation was likely regardless of what the council did.

Oakville residents speak out at council

Most of the council’s public forum section included people on both sides of the debate, which has become especially heated in recent months.

And some Oakville residents had choice words for the council. They included Lisa Crawford, who said that she couldn’t tell her daughter “that St. Louis County government cares about how government is supposed to work.”

"We have to drive all the way from Oakville every time we come here. For some of us this is the fourth or fifth time we have come up here,” Crawford said. “Down in Oakville we are called racists because we don’t want a gigantic building on a small site next to a day care. We had no say so in it."

Oakville resident William Cohen said that the opposition to the facility had nothing to do with being against housing for the elderly. It had more to do with the lack of notice for residents as well as the size and scope of the project.

"I know that a lot of the seniors that have shown up tonight think that we are against them, that we don’t want them to move into our neighborhood,” Cohen said. "That’s the furthest thing from the truth."

"The problem is this is the wrong lot for a building that large,” he added. "And two, we were left out of the loop."

Still, a number of people who live in National Church Residences' property told the council that they’ve had good experiences in other facilities.

And Mary Alice Ryan, the president of St. Andrew’s Resources for Seniors, said the facility would be a “godsend” for low-income seniors.

"These are not frail, unhealthy people. These are just people who do not have the same income that many others do," Ryan said. "They worked hard. They need decent housing. This project, I believe, would be a wonderful project. I’ve read about some concerns with day care. Three of our communities have child day care next door. All three of them, the children work very much with our residents."

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