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Government, Politics & Issues

Oakville senior living facility faces uncertain fate at county council

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The ball is effectively in the St. Louis County Council’s court after the St. Louis County Planning Commission rejected a bid to scuttle a low-income senior living facility in Oakville.

But at this point, no one knows how the council will act because a supermajority is required to override the commission's decision.

The commission voted 6-1 on Monday to deny a rezoning request for the structure owned by Columbus, Ohio-based National Church Residences. The St. Louis County Council took the unprecedented step earlier this summer to ask the commission to reexamine the zoning designation of the $5.2 million facility, which is receiving funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

While some critics reacted bitterly to the decision, the county council was always the final arbiter on whether to reverse the structure's zoning. But Monday’s decision means that five council members will have to vote for an override – as opposed to four.

Councilman Steve Stenger – an Affton Democrat whose district encompasses Oakville -- told the Beacon Tuesday he still needs to read the planning commission’s report before pursuing an override. Glenn Powers, the county planning director, said on Monday that council members should receive the report in roughly two weeks.

“We need to wait for the report to come back from the planning commission,” Stenger said. “I read in the press clippings the reasons that were given. The other council members need to see those for sure. They need to see the report. They need to review it. Because this is an individual council member-by-council member issue.”

Even though five council members voted to have the commission review the zoning, getting five votes for an override will be challenging, he said.

“The issue of whether to send this issue back to the planning commission is completely different from overriding the decision of the planning commission. Very different,” Stenger said. “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.”

Before proceeding to override the commission, Stenger said he would “need to know that there were votes on the council that would be in support of that kind of a decision.”

“Everyone on the council – including me – needs to read what they’ve said and make a determination at the point,” Stenger said. “And then in between that time, it’s not really my place, you know, I don’t want to interfere with that process of the other councilmembers.”

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley could veto any legislation, especially since he’s said that stopping the facility would leave the county vulnerable for litigation.

Could Quinn and Wasinger be kingmakers?

Any potential override of the commission’s decision could depend on the council’s two Republicans.

Because Democrats hold a 5-2 majority on the council, they can usually pass bills over the objections of Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country, and Councilman Greg Quinn, R-Ballwin. But because Councilwomen Kathleen Burkett, D-Overland, and Hazel Erby, D-University City, could vote against overriding the commission’s decision, opponents of the facility would almost certainly need Wasinger's and Quinn’s support to succeed.

Both Wasinger and Quinn said they would wait to read the commission’s report before making any firm determinations.

“What I’ll do is take a look at it and see what the planning commission said,” said Quinn. “And I’ll make a decision probably a little closer to the time.”

After telling the Beacon she, too, would have to read the commission’s report, Wasinger said she “will be looking very closely at how the notice ordinance was followed and who was notified and when.” 

"I haven’t seen the official report from the Planning and Zoning Commission, other than what we read in the paper," Wasinger said. "But I’ll read it and I’ll see how we move forward."

While the council will receive the report during the week of Aug. 19, Stenger emphasized there’s “no guarantee that we would act immediately at that time.”

“The council members have to determine what their vote’s going to be,” he added.

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